Don’t Just Tell, Show: the Value of Examples

Don't Just Tell, Show: the Value of ExamplesI found something interesting while cleaning off an old shelf recently. It was a children’s story called Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann. I planned on reading it one last time and then donating it. Instead, I kept the book.

Here’s a summary. Officer Buckle is a police officer. He spends a lot of time reading important safety tips to school children. But the children never listen. He is assigned a police dog, Gloria. He brings Gloria to his presentations and has her sit, to show how important it is to follow directions. Suddenly the children start paying attention and even send thank you notes. What Officer Buckle does not realize is that Gloria does not stay seated. She gets up and acts out what happens if each safety tip is not followed. That is what got his audiences’ attention.

It’s a beautifully simple reminder. Examples get people’s attention and are also fantastic memory aids. Uninspired eLearning tends to fail on both of these points. Perhaps your association has best practices, regulations, or new techniques you’d like your members to follow. You could just tell them by sending out an e-mail or making an eLearning course full of animated text that lists all of the information. They’re not necessarily going to pay close attention or remember it though.

If you reinforce the same key information with examples, it provides context and lets your members see why the content is important. This works well because humans inherently want to know “why.” If you just tell someone “do (or don’t do) this” they’re probably going to wonder, “Why?” You can use examples to answer this question by showing them why.

Tell: Start using this computer program.
The learner thinks: Why should I?


Show: This computer program has helped our main competitor significantly increase their productivity. We need to learn how to use it too because we’re falling behind them.
The learner thinks: I don’t want to fall behind. Maybe I should learn how to use it.

Good examples are also specific. As Lisa Cron observes in Wired for Story, people only have a general grasp of abstract ideas. Concepts like love, success, and safety are familiar to everyone but they’re really hard to pin down or visualize. Specific examples are a great tool for concentrating these abstracts into something concrete learners can latch onto and commit to memory. I can say that hot coffee can burn you, or I can tell you about the time Jim from accounting scalded his tongue because his coffee was too hot. They’re both related to coffee-drinking safety. They give the same warning. But which one caught your attention?

There are a number of ways to put examples to work in your association’s eLearning:

  • Present case studies
  • Include testimonials
  • Show data, charts, or other visuals that support the idea
  • Play a video
  • Role-play
  • Use example scenarios with characters to illustrate a point, instead of making generic statements

Without Gloria, Officer Buckle’s presentations were just a bunch of telling. With her, they became show-and-tell. That’s what got the children excited about learning the safety tips. Examples help learners understand why something is important and allow them to form clear mental images that aid memory. What kind of creative examples have you seen or used? Sound off in the comments section.

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eLearning Trends for 2015: Here to Stay or Go Away?

LMS Trends of 2015Trends in eLearning come and go, but a good LMS is forever. Ok maybe not forever, but a provider can dream. Below is a list of eLearning trends we expect to see in 2015. Will they last or fade away? Only time will tell.


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are definitely trending in eLearning. These are online courses offered to the masses, often for free. Why, you ask, would an association want to create a MOOC? Exposure. It’s like the concept of “freemium” games where a game is free, but the add-ons have a small fee. An association can leverage this free course model to increase membership and attract more people who are willing to pay for educational offerings in the future. From a corporate standpoint, MOOCs can assist in corporate training across offices for a large number of employees.

Verdict: Here to Stay (for now)


Gamification, not to be confused with game-based learning, is the use of game elements such as leaderboards and badges, in courses. This is meant to increase social competition among learners and create engagement to motivate them to succeed. In fact, gamification taps into the learner’s basic desires for status and achievement.  In an excerpt from Effects of Achievement Motivation on Behavior, author Rabideau explains the motives behind gamification:

 People’s achievement goals affect their achievement-related attitudes and    behaviors. Two different types of achievement-related attitudes include task-involvement and ego-involvement. Task-involvement is a motivational state in which a person’s main goal is to acquire skills and understanding whereas the main goal in ego-involvement is to demonstrate superior abilities.

Gamification taps into a learner’s intrinsic enjoyment of mastery, as well as their ego’s desire to make social comparisons and assess their ability relative to others.

Verdict: Go Away (but it shouldn’t)

Sadly, too few organizations and associations understand what gamification is and what it is not.  As a result, many are too apprehensive to tap into gamification’s potential, even though it is a worthy strategy for engaging and connecting with learners.


Mobile learning (mLearning) refers to content that can be accessed anywhere, on any device. eLearning on one’s home computer is no longer enough. Now learners want access to content on their phones, tablets, lap tops, and other mobile devices. The goal is to create content that can be consumed on-the-go, and on the learner’s schedule. This trend gives rise to micro-learning (small chunks of information) and responsive design (courses that adapt to fit multiple screen sizes). With the potential of additional consumer mobile devices such as Google Glass, this will also create a need for augmented and blended learning experiences, engaging learners in a whole new way.

Verdict: Here to Stay

Augmented Learning

Augmented learning is the next “cool-factor” innovation in eLearning. Augmented learning or augmented reality includes virtual reality, information superimposed in a user’s physical space (think information pop-ups about what you’re seeing), and 3D environments, among other features. These features will be available through devices such as Google Glass and Oculus Rift. Imagine a medical student in the operating room getting real time information pop-ups about how the surgery is performed, the organs and systems affected, and the history of the procedure. With augmented learning this scenario could become reality.

Verdict: Go Away (for now)

This concept is exciting, but will be seen as impractical by training and development departments. Still, we look forward to the day when augmented learning is accepted, we just don’t think it will be any time soon.

Cloud Based

Everyone is clamoring for the “almighty cloud.” But does anyone really know what the cloud is? In short, it is software and services accessed through the internet, through a remote server so you can access your content from anywhere. If your software is hosted and you retrieve it from the internet, you’re accessing the cloud. Look for a SaaS (Software as a Service) LMS provider with a trustworthy reputation and reliable hosting to manage your LMS, and get on the cloud.

Verdict: Here to Stay

What trends would you like to see stay and which should go away?

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What’s the Difference Between an LMS and an LCMS? Hint: It’s Not Just the Letter “C”

It can be difficult to understand eLearning terms when they’re used interchangeably. Which is which and how do you know when to use them? Learning Management Systems and Learning Content Management SystemsFor example, you’ve likely seen Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) discussed on various websites and company pages. It sounds like they’re the same thing, right? Wrong. Are they similar? Sure. But there are differences, and those differences matter like the differences between siblings caught in a rivalry to be the favorite child. “Oh sure, the LMS will manage your learners, but will it help you create content?”

What’s an LMS?

An LMS manages people’s interactions with learning content. In other words, it allows learners to take courses and attend online events, instructors to track learners’ progress and scores, administrators to check reports, and more. It gives your association one software package that delivers, assesses, and reports on online training programs. In many cases, the learner can receive his or her LMS-generated certificate at the end of a course. In short, it’s the learning delivery platform. Sounds great, right?

How is an LCMS Different from an LMS?

An LCMS goes one step farther.  An LCMS  lets you create learning content (courses, lessons, modules, etc.). As a result, your association can create, store, reuse, and manage courses and training materials all in the same program.  In short, with an LCMS you typically get all the features of an LMS plus the added benefits of a Content Management System (CMS).  Note: some of these LCMS systems are proprietary and do not allow content created within the system to be moved to another system. The ideal solution is an LCMS that also allows you to create content using other authoring systems or tools, and also allows you transfer the created content to another system, in future, if you need to.

How Do I Choose?  

“Why would I want an LMS?”

Suppose your members need training to introduce them to a new product that affects your field. Your association pays a vendor to create an interactive course that goes over the features of this new product. Now you need a way to deliver that training to your members across the country and you want to track who has taken the course, their scores, and their competency with this new product. In this case, you probably want an LMS because the content already exists and you just need to deliver and manage it. Paying more for an LCMS would get your content creation features that you may not use.

“Why would I want an LCMS if I already have an LMS?”

Now suppose the association wants to save money by making the course themselves and decides not to hire a vendor. Maybe there’s an existing PowerPoint presentation, or other resource, that can be updated and repurposed. Or maybe they want to make something completely new but don’t have the tools they need. Can they make that revised PowerPoint presentation interactive? Can they build a new course without buying an authoring tool? If they’re using an LMS, probably not. On the other hand, an LCMS could allow the association to add interactions and questions to the PowerPoint or build a course from scratch without needing to buy another program. In this instance, an LCMS is probably a better fit because the association can create its own learning content and deliver it to its members using one product.

Please note that an LCMS is not the only way to create your own learning content. You could invest in a rapid content authoring tool, build the Associations favorite LMS or LCMScourses in the tool, and then deliver them using an LMS. The distinction is that if you have an LCMS you can build courses inside the LCMS and you don’t need a separate tool. Every LMS and LCMS is different and every provider uses their own judgment when deciding what to call their product. Their judgment might be different from yours. So, always check with your provider, or prospective provider, and ask them about their system’s specific features to see if they fit your association’s needs.

Choosing Your Favorite: “I have the best features, pick me!”

The fact that providers often use “LMS” and “LCMS” interchangeably is what causes confusion. Remember, if a system offers content creation it’s an LCMS, even if the provider calls it an LMS. Whichever you pick, both are great ways to address an organization’s educational and training needs and can provide associations with new and exciting sources of non-dues revenue from members and non-members alike.

*PLEASE NOTE:  A true LCMS is solely a content creation and management tool. You will need to check with your specific provider regarding the functions and features of their LCMS and LMS to clarify which they offer.*

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Game Based Learning: Is It Appropriate For My Association?

Game Based Learning

According to BigFish games, 58% of Americans play video games, with 68% of that population older than 18. In fact, the average age of a video gamer is 35 – a key demographic we’d all like to include in our association’s ranks, right? Why are games so popular, and how can we leverage gamification for association learning?

Like any effective learning project, it’s critical to define your audience and determine if gamification is a good fit. Game developers like Ubisoft, Activision, Blizzard spend millions of dollars on research to learn what game play elements engage which demographic. This research can also be invaluable in helping decide what game styles would be most likely to attract and engage your target demographic.Chances are if you’re part of the 58%, you know how powerful games are. Games create a sense of “flow” – a concept coined by theorist Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “Chick sent me high”). This flow state gives us a high degree of focus and engagement. Csikszentmihalyi believed that this flow state makes our minds more receptive to learning new ideas and concepts. So, it’s no surprise that so many associations are exploring game-based learning experiences for their members.

This post is derived from The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell, who teaches at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. If you’re interested in how to create extremely effective games – for learning or otherwise, I highly recommend it.

Here is some research around which game elements are more attractive to men and women, along with some tips on how to include these features within your learning. You may be able to use this list to better target your demographic and create more game-like engagement, without the time and expense of producing a full game-based learning experience.

Demographics – Men are from Mars…

Here are the top 3 game features more tailored to male players:

  1. Mastery – while women want to achieve mastery of relevant tasks, men seem to be driven to master any challenge, regardless of the context. Badging works well here, allowing male players to achieve the highest levels. If there’s a way to promote this player’s achievement publicly, even better.
  2. Competition – men want to compete, and leaderboards are a great way for players to see how they’re ranked against others. We’ve created “faux leaderboards” where players compete against computer generated scores that aren’t even real players! It doesn’t matter. Male players want a challenge, so motivating them with “scores to beat” is very effective.
  3. Trial and Error – As Schell mentions, men hate reading directions and would rather just drive! So offer game approaches that allow skipping instruction, so male players can learn by doing (and failing, then doing again). And it’s unnecessary to include buttons in the interface labeled “maps,” because you just know that men would never click on those!

Women are from Venus

If your association is composed of more women, here are game styles that appeal to that demographic:

  1. Emotion – generally speaking, women seem to be more motivated by emotion. Consider weaving stories or scenarios throughout your game, where female player can emotionally connect with the players and situations.
  2. Real world – Schell reminds us that when we were kids, boys played cowboys while girls played house. Women tend to want to connect with relevant, relatable, real-world experiences. Consider grounding your learning game in the real-world, with realistic situations that connect the gameplay back to relevant content and learning objectives.
  3. Nurturing – yes, this is a stereotype. But often stereotypes exist because there is some evidence to support the generalization. In general, women are more nurturing, so consider game types that enable players to connect with other players, perhaps allowing them to provide advice or help a non-playing character solve a problem. Teaching others is one of best ways learners can master content, themselves.
  4. Learning by example – unlike men, who tend to want to start driving to some destination without asking direction, women tend to be stronger planners and will turn to tutorials and case studies for assistance in solving a problem. This “pull-based” learning approach might enable players to access external resources outside of the learning experience, then solve problems once they feel ready.

While there are many factors to consider when designing a gamification experience, a very important first step is to target your membership. Will the audience for this gamification experience be primarily male or female? How can I leverage these game styles to create an effective learning experience, based on the learning objectives?

One important note: these descriptions are generalizations. The age of the player is as important as the gender. In future posts, we’ll discuss some of the game types most attractive, based on player’s ages. When you map these considerations, along with gender, you would have an even more precise analysis.  However, you may want to consider creating an early prototype – perhaps even just in PowerPoint. Then, do some informal feedback testing from a sample of your own demographic.  Players will definitely let you know what they like, so even informal focus groups can be very helpful in deciding on your association’s gaming strategy.

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PowerPoint or Prezi: Which is Best for eLearning?

Powerpoint or Prezi Association EducationThe question is becoming more and more common — “Should I use PowerPoint (PPT) or Prezi?” The two presentation programs share many of the same features, such as the ability to include text, images, audio, and video. But whereas PowerPoint tends to progress linearly from one slide to the next in a fixed sequence, Prezi uses “paths” to move between content by zooming out to reveal a big-picture overview, or zooming in to show details.

Here are a few points to consider before making a choice for your association:

“Is the eLearning well-designed?”

Regardless of whether you use PPT or Prezi, content and design are key. These programs are tools; what you do with them determines whether or not they’re effective. Either one can have too much on screen at once, too many transitions, unengaging information, etc. Sometimes a change of approach is called for, rather than a change in technology.

“What do we want to use the program for?”

Giving a presentation in front of a live audience at a workshop requires a different set of features and considerations than, say, building a self-paced course. Both programs are designed as presentation tools, so either one should be able to fill that role. I’ve already written about how to create eLearning using PPT, so I won’t re-visit that here. As for Prezi, I personally do not recommend trying to use it on its own to create self-paced eLearning. With that said, it could still be useful in other learning contexts. Read on to see why.

“Why don’t we use both?”

Prezi does have a free account level available, so even if you already have PPT it’s possible to access both programs without paying any more than you are now. Perhaps surprisingly, these rival programs are somewhat compatible with one another. You can import PPT slides into Prezi to use them as a foundation. It’s also possible to turn a Prezi file into a video, using third party software like a screen cast program, and include that file in a PPT.

There are already many general comparisons online that have done a pretty thorough job of discussing the pricing, storage space, and other technical aspects of these programs. So this comparison is going to look at PPT and Prezi specifically through an eLearning lens.

• Interactivity. There are many ways to create on-click, timed, and some on-hover interactions in PPT. Prezi is not interactive beyond selecting which part of the screen you want to zoom to, or hyperlinking out to a URL. There is no way to include questions, click-to-reveals, or anything else that requires a learner to interact with the content.

• Compatibility with other eLearning programs. I was not able to find any eLearning authoring programs that listed compatibility with Prezi as a feature. PPT files can be directly imported into various other programs including Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and Prezi itself.

• Collaborative authoring. Even Prezi’s free account includes real time collaborative presentation editing. By itself, collaboration in PPT can be done by sharing a file and leaving and responding to comments. But if you’re using Office 365, or have a Microsoft account, the newest version of PPT also offers real time collaboration.

• Progression. Although PPT is considered “linear” and Prezi is generally “non-linear,” it is possible to build non-linear PPTs and linear Prezis. You just need to know how.

• Reusability. PPT lets you build Master Slides so you don’t have to format every slide from scratch. In Prezi, reusing your existing “Frames” can accomplish the same task. Both programs let you save custom themes.

• Branding. PPT gives you access to a large font library that you can add to. You can also customize the color scheme of each object individually. By default, Prezi has about fifteen font styles. If the font(s) your association uses aren’t there, you’re out of luck if you’re using a free account. You can customize color schemes, but all objects of the same type must be the same color.

• Medical considerations. Presentations created in Prezi have been reported to cause dizziness, headaches, and motion sickness. I was skeptical, but I have experienced it firsthand. PPT is not known to cause any significant problems.

• Accessibility. PPT allows alternative text to be built into presentations. This lets screen readers access the information. Prezi is not ADA/ 508 compliant and has been deemed an “inaccessible service” by Web2Access.

So when could Prezi shine as an eLearning tool? Personally, I think it would be a great tool for brainstorming, or “mind mapping.” . This makes sense given the “white board” metaphor it works off of. It could also be useful for group projects and getting your learners to try a new approach, especially if they’re used to PPT. Its zooming navigation also lends itself to demonstrations of concepts that are, literally, inside one another. Zooming into a human body to examine organs, or looking at the parts of an atom, for example.

Ultimately, the decision of which program to use is a matter of preference for the type of content being presented. Your association may even experiment with using both. As long as a presentation is well-crafted it can be effective no matter what tool is used to create it. Both are designed to be presentation aids, but PPT has more components that make it useful for authoring self-paced eLearning materials. Prezi, however, has built-in social learning components and could be a fabulous tool for activities. What do you think?






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Achieving Learning Flow with Your Online Member Education

Learning Flow

Earlier this year, Associations Now wrote an article asking whether “binge learning” will become the new “binge watching.” This references the growing trend among Netflix subscribers who use the on-demand television and movie steaming service to watch entire television series in one sitting. The piece brought up a good point. Technology could easily create similar changes in how learners interact with and consume online learning.

Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow model describes the concept of being so engaged in an activity, such as an online course, that you remain engaged for an extended period of time, completing modules, activities, and assessments without taking breaks. You begin to lose yourself in the activity and experience feelings of devotion, energy, and delight. Whether you know it or not, you’ve experienced learning flow. Maybe you were working on your favorite hobby and lost track of time, or perhaps you found yourself link surfing to learn more after you found something interesting online. Jane Hart refers to learning flow as “a continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities – accessible from the web and mobile devices.” We’ve talked a lot about self-paced learners and how important it is to let them absorb information on their own time. But, have you considered how important it is for them to achieve learning flow?

Use these three conditions provided by Csíkszentmihályi Mihály, the “father of flow,” in your online education to help your members achieve learning flow:

1) Goals. Our recent blog post on learning objectives reinforces the importance of giving learners clear, action-oriented goals. Seeing the end goal and having something tangible to work towards is key to achieving learning flow and motivating your learners. This can often be achieved by utilizing a progress tracker in your LMS or by allowing learners on-demand access to their dynamically updated eTranscript.

Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Model2) Balance. Take a look at the image Csíkszentmihályi illustrated to demonstrate flow. You will see that it is all about attaining a balance between challenge and skill level. While you cannot control the skill set of a learner, you can design a learning experience that progresses and demands more and more of them over time.

3) Feedback. You can help create balance in regard to skill level by offering feedback so members can learn from their mistakes and enhance their understanding. The easiest way to do this is through “knowledge checks” and learning assessments which contain remediation.  Feedback also helps the learner know how they are progressing toward their goals.

Ultimately, achieving learning flow requires the right conditions – where the learner becomes fully immersed in what he is doing. Getting to know your members is necessary for establishing the balance between challenge and skill and creating the necessary conditions to encourage flow. Most importantly, personalize the learning experience for your members or enable options for the learner to create their own learning path. Follow these tips and pretty soon Netflix won’t have anything on your association’s eLearning.

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Challenge Your Learners By…

In this hectic world of on-the-spot access to information, conversations held in 140 characters or less, and instant picture uploads, Instructional Challenge learners byDesigners are faced with the challenge of designing effective learning that won’t overload learners. The heart of this challenge is finding the learners’ motivational sweet spot. To the Instructional Designer, this means figuring out how to get them to care. There are lots of ways to instill motivation, but even our best laid plans and efforts can fall short. How do we mix it up, remembering that we live in a world where sensory overload and external distractions lurk around every corner? Let’s consider a few ways we can challenge our learners to engage and translate that engagement into learning.

Create a paradigm shift
Let learners be a little selfish about their learning. Ask them to answer the question, “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” Incorporating WIIFM creates an emotional connection to the learners’ desired outcome. This ultimately helps them see learning as an asset, rather than a chore or a checkbox. After all, isn’t it easier to adopt something that’s personally relevant, rather than something mandatory that doesn’t actually apply to you?

Try this: Weave honest, conversational feedback and stories from real people who have been impacted (by both having knowledge as well as by lacking knowledge) into the course.

Get them outside their comfort zone
Let’s be honest – change is hard. On the other hand, habits make us feel comfortable, safe, and confident. But situations that create discomfort and conflict force learners to stretch their capabilities by making inferences and assumptions, testing best guesses, and exploring their creativity. This anxiety and stress helps learners develop resourcefulness and resiliency while adding new knowledge and skills. After learners develop strategies for overcoming that discomfort within the safe confines of eLearning, they can return to daily life with their newfound knowledge and confidence.

Try this: Take a cue from the television show CSI (Miami, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans – you pick!). Shock the learner with the solution or outcome first. Allow the learners to “retrace” the steps from end to beginning. This will prompt them to think in a non-linear fashion and consider all possibilities and outcomes. This replicates the complexity of reality and situations they are likely to experience in their roles.

Create a black hole
Curiosity is one of the most treasured assets in an Instructional Designer’s toolkit. When learners discover a gap in their knowledge, especially one which prevents them from getting to the aforementioned “WIIFM?” the natural pang of curiosity kicks in. The search for answers intensifies, the content gains value, and the desire to conquer that black hole turns into a driving force. Another advantage of this approach is that you avoid insulting the learners’ intelligence. Although you expose knowledge gaps, you also give the learner the opportunity to fill those gaps by letting them find the answers for themselves through activities, scenarios, and embedded aids. That way they build confidence from the inside out.

Try this: Activate your learners’ curiosity by exposing them to their knowledge gaps at the beginning of your course. Integrate a series of questions which learners are likely to get wrong, or a phased reveal of resolutions to simulated scenarios. Include a guide or mentor to provide feedback and direct them to the resources they can use to fill their knowledge void.

Remove distractions
Following in the spirit of natural curiosity, some of you may remember the days when you could play all day with a stick, a tire, and a cardboard box. And for those who don’t remember, let me tell you, an appliance box is the jackpot! Often, training is comprised of so many bells and whistles, lists of “do this/don’t do this,” and extraneous content that the whole experience just becomes overwhelming, and the learner just shuts down. Giving learners too much direction, too much audio, too many visuals can have the unintended effect of suppressing creativity. Remember – they’re not likely to have all the answers handed to them in real life. Manage distractions and increase creative problem solving by offering only the essentials learners need to achieve WIIFM. So, remove anything that inhibits creative exploration and problem solving processes, but don’t sacrifice usability.

Try this: Give learners the proverbial stick, tire, and cardboard box and let them figure out how to build a car. Translation: strip away all the fancy frills and provide simple tools that allow learners to build their own conclusions. Incorporate feedback mechanisms along the way that encourage or redirect the learner down a path to the desired outcome.

Bury a hidden treasure
Learning is an iterative process, with connections made through cycles of trial and error, reflection, and feedback. There are many ways to help learners build knowledge which may not be overtly obvious during a course, or may even seem counterintuitive. But these hidden “treasures” allow learners to master layers through exploration, discovery, and even hitting the occasional “dead end,” which ultimately helps the learner re-calibrate and get back on course.

Try this: Practice means improvement! Allow learners to “bank” bits of knowledge from each module that will be relevant to success in subsequent modules. Plant cues and thought-provoking tidbits throughout the course to encourage the learner to build a mental foundation. Creatively reveal the next layer of information when a learner successful completes a section. Make successive modules layer, build, and apply the initial concepts. This way, the learning process allows learners to revisit ideas and reflect on the implications.

Remember there is no one-size-fits-all solution that applies to every learner and every learning style. People are motivated by different factors. While this may pose a challenge to the Instructional Designer, it is not an impossible problem! By tapping into innate human inclinations like WIIFM, natural curiosity, and the drive for meaning, Instructional Designers have access to invaluable tools that require just a bit of “creative treatment.” Before you begin challenging your learners, take the first challenge yourself. Ask: “Who is my learner, what makes them tick, and why should they care about this?”




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