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My Learning Design Pet Peeves

For those of you who know me, or have worked me with me, it’s probably fair to say that I can have a reputation to “tell it like it is”. Personally I prefer the term “Positive Disruptor”. Either way, my need to question traditional learning design comes from a very honest place: I simply believe that L&D has to let go of some out-dated thinking and really consider learner-centric design.

In no particular order, this is my personal list of learning design pet peeves.

Learning Objective Overkill

Yes, writing LOs is a solid part of good design. I am sorry to break it to you, but your learner does not care about them. They are not concerned about the subtleties between analyse, detail, and describe. And your learner cares even less about LOs in microlearning or digital content. A 4 minute video on YouTube only retains 60% of the audience. 25% are gone in the first 30 seconds.  We cannot waste valuable time on listing LOs. Want your learners to know what the content is going to be? Title it properly.

“Getting to Know You” Icebreakers

 “Tell 2 truths and a lie about yourself”, “20 questions”, “Find someone who…”. These are some examples that are all variations on the same theme: make people share something personal about themselves. I know there are L&D people who love these exercises. If you fall into that camp, you are likely an extrovert. I also get that the outcome is team building. Why do I dislike these icebreakers? When a learner walks into a classroom, they enter into a contract with you: teach me something I did not know. They did not agree to have their personal details on display.

I do believe in the power of icebreakers, but they cannot be gratuitous. Time in the classroom is expensive real estate. Maximise it. Design icebreakers that highlight and reinforce learning objectives.

Avatars and Stock Photos

Trust me, I get it. Learning budgets are tight and it is just so tempting to reach for that pre-packaged rapid authoring tool bundle of characters in delightful poses. When used poorly, it can make your learning look contrived and childish. Learning content about teamwork accompanied by stock photo of people jumping happily in the air; A module about problem solving with a photograph of a woman in a thoughtful pose and a light bulb above her head? Your learners are adults – treat them as such.

Can’t hire a graphic designer? Text can be powerful, too. This is by far one of my favourite examples of a text-driven design: www.playspent.org. Okay, it has had some graphic design treatment, but it could have also been just as impactful without.

Lack of Diversity

This is somewhat related to above. Nothing makes me cringe more when I see “John Smith” used in a module, or a video featuring ten middle-aged, white, men. Now, there is nothing wrong with each independently. But adult learners need to contextualise to internalise content. At a basic level, they should see themselves reflected in the learning environment. Your case studies, imagery, and names, should be as diverse as the audience they are intended for. Otherwise, you have a lot of John and Jane Does who have tossed your learning aside.

Turnkey Learning

We’ve all seen eLearning content structured like this:

Welcome to Project Management…In this course you will learn X,Y, and Z…There are 5 phases to project management…Let’s look at Phase 1…Phase 1 has 3 sub-steps (1,2, and 3)…Drag and drop the sub-steps with their definitions…Knowledge check question! How many phases are there in project management?

Yes, this covers learning objectives and gives an overview, but it’s formulaic and predictable. It’s also boring. It probably uses clipart.

With a little bit of rework, this could become highly dynamic content. For example, begin the module with an overview of a project that struggled during each of the phases. Then do a dissection of the issues. Follow up with a walk-through of the same project and phases, but how to remedy the pitfalls. The content still matches the learning objectives, but has more impact and includes context.

These are my personal pet peeves and I sure many of these will be up for debate. I would also enjoy hearing your thoughts. Have I surpassed positive disruptor and become troublemaker?

Like what you have read? I’d be grateful for a share, like, or comment. Really like what you have read? I am currently consulting and always happy to have a conversation about L&D.