Home > Instructional Design - General > The Risks of KISSing in courses

The Risks of KISSing in courses

I recently got myself involved in a bit of a debate over a website – basically I was encouraging use of the “KISS” (Keep it short and simple) concept in design, whereas my worthy adversary stated that KISS did nothing to stimulate his cognitive juices?

This has got me thinking…, (despite it being one of the “rules” of learning and communication design…), perhaps KISS risks alienating some of our users. Perhaps some people WANT THE OPTION of information that is presented in a complex way?

It’s not always possible to develop different courses for different levels of interest – sometimes only one course can be built.

Should we always try and present information in a simple way? How should we deal with “levels” of complication? Should we offer a Pick-and-Mix course, where differing levels of complexity are consumed depending on your appetite?

I was trying to come up with a clever acronym, such as “FRENCH KISS”, but failed dismally, so here are a few thoughts on our audience, and how Articulate can be used to address these issues, (if they actually exist).

There are two dimensions of thought needed, the audience and the ways we can present different levels of information.

The Audience …

1> Different Strokes for Different Folks. Some people only want high-level, some want to explore and deep-dive. Some want both options, and to be fluid about the way they consume. We can design our courses to meet all these requirements, or we can design it the way we want it, using best Instructional Design principles.

2> Internal vs. External. SMEs and customer development teams will have their angle, they may think they know best what the audience wants. I suspect in-house development teams may be able to solve these issues better than 3rd party contractors. Many of us get told what we must produce, sometimes there is very little room to negotiate what content is in or out.

3> What is the audience make-up? Very often, we do not know the mix of the audience – the larger the potential audience, the more difficult the problem gets, more people could complain.

So – do we need to always “make complicated information easy”?

Some information will be seen by a varied audience, some of who will find it complicated, some will find it easy. In this case we need layering strategies. Some information will be complicated by design – and seen by a more cerebral – here perhaps no “layering” is needed

Presenting the Data

How do we make complex info simple using MS-PowerPoint and Articulate?

1> The Circle Interaction in Engage is my interaction of choice – specifically for this reason, and because it visually supports the solving of this problem. You start with “Core” material, and can gradually guide people up and around layers of complexity.

2> The Recap. Recapping material, perhaps using an FAQ interaction is a great way to provide a comma in training, almost like the “OK – does everyone understand so far?” mechanism of classroom training

3> Optional attachments. Recently I had a course that had some information which the SME thought was necessary, yet the average consumer would have been ambivalent about. So, at the appropriate point I used the “Pause Slide” functionality, explained there was a .pdf Attachment, and gave them an option to have a look if they wanted. If not, they could click the flashing “Play” button to move on. In this way, you offer everyone what they want and need, simplicity or complexity depending on choice and personal preference.

4> Branching. Branching functionality allows you to let people choose their own “route” through a course, based again on choice and preference. Branching is simple in Articulate, and brings real flexibility – so that you can branch for example based on Job Role. You explain that you are going to cover topic “x”, and that there are 3 different levels of complexity. “Click on Your Job Role” – and you are away.

5> Modules . Having a course in Modules can be a great way to address these issues – everyone has to complete Module 1, only pre-Sales technical consultants have to complete Module 2

6> Process Interaction. It has just occurred to me that you probably use the process interaction for this, using the numbers to represent levels of conceptual complexity, and allowing people to leave when they want to.

7> Quizmaker . Quizmaker could be used to assess people’s level of competence?  The score feedback could be used to suggest which modules or sections people consume.

Anyway, a few thoughts on how we should cope with differing levels of need, when you cannot just provide different courses. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

  1. November 12, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I am very new to Instructional Design as a discipline, but have been a teacher/trainer for years. What about the topic? Doesn’t a KISS approach work better for some topics than others? For example, when designing a basic corporate safety policy training, doesn’t is make sense to use the KISS approach no matter how intellectual the audience is? Conversely, a training for disposing of spent nuclear rods should be much more complex since the topic is complex. I do really like the idea of using modules. Modules give the audience the opportunity to rehearse the material for long term memory before moving on. Thank you for the post. I enjoy your approach to Instructional Design.


  2. November 12, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Renee…
    I guess one of the points I am trying to explore here is one you raised.
    You say “Doesn’t a KISS approach work better for some topics than others?” – I guess it probably does, however, what I am trying to explore is making the decision AUDIENCE-based rather than CONTENT-based.
    I reckon I could probably simplify a spent nuclear rods course, if required, but if I were hired by BNF to do this, I would want them to tell me exactly who their audience was, so that I provided KISS and “non-KISS” versions, or levels of data.
    I am probably re-inventing things that a million minds greater than mine have explored before, however, despite the fact I make a great living from what I do, I just keep finding more and more areas that I have not considered enough!
    I do not want to “short-change” my consumers, so I keep on finding things to question.
    Thanks for your comments – I always enjoy discussing with others.
    Take care.


  3. November 15, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Though I am in my Master’s program for instructional design, I have been working for the military in the curriculum development field for five years now. I have found that KISS (which I have always heard as Keep It Simple Stupid) can not short change the student. Especially in my curricula where we teach everything from basic life saving to weapons training to combat tactics, using KISS along with the Lane Method of crawl, walk, run has resulted in the safest way to deliver material.
    I agree with the use of modules. We have several courses which are staggered through a training continuum. Module training has shown to be a very cost effective, right training at the right time method.



  4. Nancy
    November 15, 2010 at 5:48 am

    We struggle with this debate with each new project. What level of detail enough and how many types of education materials are ‘enough’ to cover our client profile.

    We recently designed a new education package that offered the basic content needed to start to use the company’s products. We piloted this modified program by selecting clients that only requested limited or low volume system access. Our assumption was, if they did not register mutliple system administrators or a full suite of products, they probably fell inot the target audience we were looking for.

    The response was overwhelmingly positive. Most people did not want the depth of information during a one-hour course. They wanted to simply know what was needed to start using the programs. The more detailed courses left people unclear of where to start since the information was so vast.

    The modified session ends with a list of additional resources they might use in the future as reference or continued learning documents. These support documents run through all levels of detail from 1-2 page quick reference cards to 200+ page user guides.

    We do not know our audience since they are outside clients and we do not have the ability to screen them before class. So this program was a shot in the dark to fit a need/concern.

    So far, we have had great success and have rolled it out across other products.

    Since we do not have an education relationship with the clients, meaning seeing them in repeat sessions, we are always tweaking content and delivery to find the right blend. We have ot found a proven method to evaluate the learning transfer so we struggle in that area.

    Keep posting on ideas!


  5. November 15, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Personally, I like the idea of KISS. I want information delivered to me in a direct manner; I don’t usually want graphics and bells and whistles that can distract me from the actual content. However, this is not the case for everyone, hence your question about coping with different levels of need.

    Several ideas come to mind. What if you were to offer a non-media enriched option for every animation presented? Perhaps if an audio or video clip is included; offer the learner the less multimedia rich option to just read a transcript instead. If an interactive Flash graphic is used to teach a concept, can it be replaced with a flow chart by clicking a button? What if a more student driven method to learn the content is provided, for example, have the student build the flow chart themselves. This thinking is akin to the option of loading the HTML version of a graphic intensive Web site.

    Your suggestion of branching and modules do offer solutions to provide instruction tailored to the student, but how do you ensure that the learner will not select instruction below their actual ability? For example, if a test is required for the student to go on to another learning module, would a student purposely choose a level of instruction that they know to be beneath their actual comprehension just to access an easier test and move on quickly? For that reason, I think your suggestion of using The Circle of Interaction works well for the majority of learners. To go one step further, a designer could sprinkle questions to gauge understanding at various stages in the content. So now the student isn’t under pressure to complete a comprehensive test but the material is still reviewed, as you suggested in your post. Building on the idea of reviewing material, what if you asked the student the question with multiple choice answers before giving instruction? Supply branching options based on the accuracy of their question.


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