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The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #8: Less Content Please…

November 21, 2010 2 comments

Back to some similarities between Instructional Design and Close-up Magic!

There is a classic card trick called “The Ambitious Card”.  A card, (usually signed by the spectator to prove it is not a “fake”) keeps on re-appearing at the top of a pack of cards held by the magician. The magician replaces it in the middle of the cards; it appears again, and again, and again, many phases – sometimes ad nauseum…

When the magician has finally proved his/her knowledge of, and competence in card sleights the ends the routine with the card appearing in a novel way, often in a novel place. The only problem is that many laypeople/spectators have had enough around a quarter of the way through.

There is a lot of existing material about learning SMEs, and their propensity to believe course consumers need and want to know as much as they do. Learning and magic are not about throwing endless “stuff” at people just because you or your SME thinks it is interesting. Think about what the audience needs, as a minimum, and give them that. Anything else that supports the learning can be a link, a web object, a User Tab or an Attachment of some sort. Sometimes, a client or course sponsor demands more in the course. Sometimes we should acquiesce; sometimes it is our “duty” to explain that “less is more”, rather than accepting that “more is more”, (or in this case “Moore is More”). Cathy Moore has a fantastic view on this at http://blog.cathy-moore.com/2010/03/how-to-convert-the-toughest-sme/

I guess my point is this…..sometimes it’s OK to have an eLearning or classroom course cover just one learning point, quickly. We should not be fearful that, in some way, we are short-changing our audience or our sponsor. Recently, I asked a course sponsor whether we could add some more material to an eLearning course, as it was only 8-slides long. He mailed me back saying, (and I paraphrase…) “It’s OK, this is not a complex subject, this is good material, it’s enough – you taught me that“. It was nice to have someone remind me of my own point of view and beliefs 🙂

I recently performed the “Ambitious Card” with one-phase only. I had a card chosen and signed, the card was signed, put back on top of the rest of the cards. I cut the cards, and completed the cut, and the card was back on top. My audience loved it. I had just proved the futility of shuffling with another trick, and now I had just proved the futility of cutting.

Perhaps we can get our learning audiences to like us more if we just remember to give them less.

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Blended Learning with Magical Masters

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Many people seem to struggle with the concept of “blended learning”, and when to use it. My view is simple, give it a try, and if it does not work out, and give you the measurable ROI you planned, (you DID plan this when you designed the course – didn’t you?); then you do not do it again.
Sometimes you need to take a risk, albeit a calculated one.
Many magicians extoll the virtue of books (akin to only considering classroom teaching…); books are certainly cheaper in terms of trick-per-dollar, and they undoubtedly allow teaching/learning to take place. Some people like DVDs and the Web, they get to see something being taught and feel more comfortable, and that’s fine too. Both have plusses both have negatives, argued by fans of each.
I was shown a magic site today from Eugene Burger and Jeff McBride – http://virtual.magicalwisdom.com/infopages/view/tour_how. These two magicians are undoubted masters of our art, (non-magicians may have never heard of them), but here’s a great attempt at a blended learning solution – incorporating offline and online media.
There’s video, written essays, discussion forums, and optional 1:1 sessions (at an extra cost – using Skype) with the gurus themselves.
This looks like a simple(ish) model, and although there’s a few things I can see that could potentially go wrong, this looks like a nice learning and business model, professionally put together in terms of look and feel. I know this is already happening in many places in our industry, but there’s still a large community of “trainers” and “education professionals” that would not know Skype, a blog and a Webcam from a bull’s foot. A few people in our industry could learn from this. Use the toolkit that’s available to make learning work.
Good luck to Jeff and Eugene.

The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #1

September 6, 2010 1 comment

As well as an Instructional Designer, I am a close-up magician. I go to other people’s dinners, parties, charity balls and weddings. I am paid for having fun 😀
As an old joke goes – I said to my Dad, “Dad, when I grow up I want to be a magician”, and he replied, “Son, you can’t do both”.

I post regularly on magic forums, (yes, they do exist…), and have noticed many posts sharing similar traits and themes to those posted on eLearning/Instructional Design forums, some of which I would like to investigate over the next few posts. These are personal views and observations; I have not performed any statistical analysis to back them up!

Thought #1> Technical Prowess vs. Performance
Magicians love, (absolutely love – sometimes to the point of obsession), discussing sleights, and how to make them better. It is odd that we achieve mastery of sleights at the point where our audience can see nothing of our abilities! The performance side of magic seems to take a second place.

Many learning forum discussions seem to revolve around the technical side of things, “how to do stuff” rather than “how to present stuff”. The theoretical art of eLearning seems to be of interest to fewer people, posts of this type seem to generate less active interest on forums.

One lesson I have learned from both magic and eLearning/presentation sources, is that it’s not how complicated you make it; it’s how simply you present it. Great magical plots are simple to understand from the spectator’s perspective, (although there may be some complicated antics going on behind the scenes…)

In regards to knowledge transfer of any sort, it’s how simple you make it; how simply you show it, how simply you can explain it, how simply you illustrate it, how simply you tell it, and how simple you make the finding of supplemental information and data – no matter how complicated or technical the actual subject.

One great tool to assist you is the “readability statistics” available in Word; it checks how simple the content text is. If necessary – copy the text from PowerPoint to Word.

Remember the KISS principle, (Keep It Short and Simple), and learn how to utilize it in courses, (although ironically, this principle seems to be too simplistic for many people?)

Let me know if you agree, disagree, or need me to explain anything!

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