Understand the Question (Before you Answer)


I wanted to write this short post as an instructive learning moment, for those who find themselves in the same situation I often am; one where I am asked a question.

Between my defined day to day duties, I am sometimes asked a question by a coworker that falls outside the boundaries of my immediate knowledge. Often times this question is asked in earnest, because I am someone they trust, someone they know they can rely on, or someone who just happened to be nearby and available at the time.

When a question like this occurs, my immediate impulse is to fire off an answer – after all I, like most everyone else, want to be helpful! The problem I run into with this impulse isn’t that my answer is wrong – it’s that I don’t understand the question being asked.

The key to effective communication is understanding what is being asked.

Just today, I was asked if it was possible to put training materials from one of our products, into a different product – kind of like a merger between products. My initial answer was affirmative – this was easy to complete!

Then I thought about the question, and realized that my coworker may not be asking about whether or not this was technically possible, but whether or not my team had capacity to complete this work. If that was the case, the answer got a bit trickier.

And then I realized that my coworker may not have been asking about the training materials themselves, but instead about access to training materials from users of one product to another – which makes the answer much more complicated and messy!

In the end, I amended my initial answer with my coworker and said that what they were asking was likely quite possible, but we needed to have a discussion about the parameters and scope of what they were asking.

It’s likely that my first response to my coworker was adequate, and all they needed to know is if training materials could be hosted elsewhere. However, I sensed, during the conversation, that there may be more of a need behind the question than what was on the surface.

I’ll find out if I am right or wrong (can I be both?) during our meeting next week – which is much better than finding out a few weeks before the project due date.

The next time you’re asked a question, first take a moment to consider what is being asked. Clarify if needed. Only when you’re sure you understand the request, will you be able to provide the right answer.

Questions are a Gift-Wrapped Opportunity


When I was in public education and started delivering professional development presentations and lessons to other teachers, I found myself nervous. I wanted to do a good job. I wasn’t sure I had enough experience. Many of the teachers I was presenting to were much older than me.

I was also nervous about being asked a tough question.

This fear was born out of two things. First, I was a bit of a hot-headed young professional, and relished asking hard hitting questions, sometimes just to be the person who asks hard questions (oops).

The second reason, is because I saw questions as a test, as a challenge, to the authority of the speaker.

I was quite wrong.

Questions, even tough ones, are gift-wrapped opportunities for any trainer, speaker, or leader. Consider the following:

  • Questions are a wonderful example of engagement. Whether you’re leading a presentation, lesson, or meeting, you want your attendees to learn. Learning increases with engagement, and questions are a high form of engagement. This is a good thing!
  • Questions help innovate. Everyone has blind spots in their understanding of a topic. Questions can help identify these blind spots, bring new ideas to the table, or approach a problem from a different perspective.
  • Questions tell you where you went wrong. As a leader, trainer, or presenter, your job is to lead others on a journey from where they are, to where you want them to be. Questions help jump-start those who fell off the cart on the journey, get them back on track, and help you become more effective.
  • Questions, or how you respond to them, set culture. Imagine an effective culture for your environment. Is fear, anger, sarcasm, or apathy a part of that environment? Probably not. How about enthusiasm, respect, energy, or collaboration? How you respond to questions sets the culture for your setting. Your response to questions should model what you want to see out of others.

Finally, it’s okay not to know an answer to a question! A question you don’t have an answer to is an opportunity to learn, innovate, and build a culture of knowledge. Modeling this learning, in the face of uncertainty, is imperative for any trainer, teacher, or leader.

A Little Something Extra


One of the things I learned early in public education, is that students respond well to rewards. Positive reinforcement, such as prizes, gratitude, extra recess, free time, and treats always lifted my student’s spirits.

Believe it or not, I also saw a positive correlation between rewards and learning retention with my students.

So I used rewards as a classroom strategy.

And I used them a lot.

To be honest, some days I just wanted to have a calm classroom. Other days, I targeted a specific learning or procedural outcome, with the reward used as a tool for motivation.

Feeling Good about Learning Tools

In the adult learning space, we use something called the Kirkpatrick Model to determine the effectiveness of a learning tool.

At the base level of Kirkpatrick’s model, the reaction of the learning participant can be measured in many different ways – one of which, is enjoyability.

Was the learning tool enjoyable to interact with?

Was the training enjoyable to engage in?

Think of positive responses to these questions as a door opening. Once this door is open, it allows for learning, knowledge accumulation, and behavior change. If a participant doesn’t engage with a learning tool or training in a positive and enjoyable way, the door stays closed and learning won’t occur in the first place. Without learning, knowledge transfer can’t occur, and behavior change is unreachable.

A Little Something Extra

So what does this mean? To put it simply, if a participant enjoys a training, they are much more likely to learn from the training.

When I hold trainings, or build a learning tool, I try to keep this in mind. I always try to include something extra for the learners, to make them feel better about the process. In a webinar style training, that could be an FAQ document provided at the end. With in-person trainings, it could be candy dishes available for the participants.

Whatever it is, giving something extra can make for a more enjoyable experience – which translates to better learning outcomes.

Lessons from a Middle School Classroom: What are we Doing Today?


I taught Middle School for almost a decade. Even though my first day of teaching was in my early twenties, I still remember those first moments. I was standing in the front of my room, cleanly shaved, and wearing a tie. I was proud – I had done it! I was a teacher.

Then the bell rang, and 850 Middle School students flooded the halls.

Earlier in the week, I had confided with a few veteran teachers. I told them that I was nervous about how to handle student behavior. My colleagues assured me that “it would be fine,” and that Middle School students are angels during the first few weeks of school. As those 850 Middle School students flooded the halls of the first day of school, all the confidence and pride I had turned to jelly in my stomach.

“Where’s my locker?”
“Who are YOU?”
“What are we doing today?”

A cacophony of questions, and a bit more cussing than I had anticipated, accosted me from all sides.

I was able to sort everything out in those first few minutes. I made it through my first day, then my first week. Over the next eight and a half years, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching. But it was one of the questions I was asked on my first day, that stuck with me, and made me a better teacher.

“What are we doing today?”

When it comes to learning, people learn better when they know upfront what they are supposed to learn about. I learned quickly, that to get the best possible learning experience for my Middle School students, I needed to answer that question at the beginning of every class.

“Today, we’re going to learn how to sketch a design from Bird’s Eye View.”

 When I started teaching at workshops and conferences, I found that question was just as important.

“Today, we’re going to learn how to use game mechanics to increase motivation from your students.”

The same holds true outside the Middle School classroom, in what I’m doing today. If I’m running a meeting, presenting an idea, or training on a new feature, learning improves when I start by answering the question:

What are we doing today?

A New Look at Professional Development


One of my focuses in 2020 is to commit to professional development time.

I started 2019 with a strong professional development goal, but it soon dropped off and made way for, well, work. After a workshop I attended a few months ago, I realized that I was doing myself a disservice by not maintaining that professional development time. Here is my plan to attack this gap in my own growth as an instructional designer.

Put it On the Calendar

First, I am going to explicitly schedule time for myself, and put it on the calendar, repeating, throughout the year. If I don’t do this, it’s just too easy to skip, or have something else take its place.

My initial goal was to spend a small amount of time daily, related to professional development. After thinking more about it, I believe my time would be better served if I commit 1 hour a week to growing a skill of some sort. This way, I am less tempted to skip, and I have more time to focus and dig into deeper content.

I’ve recently started tracking where I spend my time while working. Looking at the past month, I believe 1 hour a week is more than doable.

Engage with other Instructional Designers

I am fortunate enough to work with 3 other incredible, talented, and brilliant instructional designers. Not only do I view my teammates as the pinnacle of professionalism – but each one of us has different areas of strength and expertise.

One of my teammates has incredible systems knowledge, team management skills, and very (very!) high aspirations. Another of my teammates has great experience in the industry, and an unwavering commitment to creating and following effective processes. Yet another teammate has an incredible eye for design, and is always on the cutting edge of new trends and tactics when it comes to e-learning.

Not only can we learn together, but I believe we can learn from one another. This, I think, is one of the greatest strengths that my current company can offer all of us.

My Plan

My plan is to block off two different times on my calendar each week. One time block will occur on the second and fourth weeks of each month. This time block will be a meeting time with my teammates. The idea is that we’ll meet together, and share best practices and resources around a single, narrow topic under the umbrella of Instructional Design. The other time block will occur on the first and third weeks of every month. This is individual research time, devoted to the topic we will be discussing as a team in the following week.

I sent an email to my teammates earlier this week, suggesting this format. It was met with energy and optimism – and I would expect nothing less from my teammates. But I don’t want this time to become a worthless meeting – I want to make sure that this time is valuable to all of us.

So I’m still figuring out exactly how our meeting will run. Right now, I’m leaning towards giving everyone 15 minutes to share resources, ask questions, lead a discussion, etc. That way, each one of us can create, or find, the value they want from this professional development session.

Share Your Knowledge

Have you done something similar to this in the past? I would love to hear your experiences with collaborative professional development. Share what you’ve done, so we can learn more together.

Motivating Adult Learners


I have previously mentioned Keller’s ARCS motivation model, and how it applies to motivating adult learners. However, I have not specifically discussed my approach to using these strategies – which is what I plan to do today!

How to Motivate Adult Learners

The ARCS Model of Motivation looks at different strategies through four different categories of motivation – Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction. Including one or more strategies from each category of motivation within any adult learning experience, whether it be an e-learning module or consulting, will help any instructor reach their desired goal.


Attention is paramount to any learning objective. Without the attention or engagement of the adult learner, motivation will be low.

There are a lot of different strategies that can be used to attract or retain the attention of an adult learner. A few of these strategies are listed below.

  • Humor – Humor is a great way to start any presentation, or maintain attention throughout long learning experiences.
  • Active Participation – Research shows that an engaged learner is much more likely to learn what is needed! Active participation can be as simple as reading information out loud, sharing an experience, or participating in a role playing scenario.
  • Gamification – Using game strategies can motivate and grasp learner’s attention quickly! I’ve found that, when used appropriately, gamification strategies are best when an instructor is not physically present.


In my experience, the first two questions out of an adult learner’s mouth are, “Why am I here?” and “How will this help me?” While sometimes combative in nature, these are valid questions!

I believe that relevance is the most important area of motivation to include with any adult learning experience. A few strategies are listed below.

  • Present Worth – “Why am I here” can often times be the blunt start of a learning experience. Answering this question directly, and making sure the adult learner is aware how this learning will add value to their life is often the first step to making sure the learning experience is relevant for the learner.
  • Future Usefulness – If there is no current usefulness for the learning experience, certainly there is future usefulness! Making sure the learner is aware how the learning experience will improve their future life is very important – even if it’s just learning a new payroll system!
  • Choice – If the learning experience allows for it, choice is a great way to motivate adult learners. Because learners all have different backgrounds and skill-sets, offering the learner choice on what experience they wish to pursue will significantly increase their motivation.


Once the learning experience has started, it is the instructor’s job to make sure the learner is confident with the learning target. If the learner isn’t confident with their new knowledge or skills, the instructor hasn’t been successful!

Below are a few strategies to increase the confidence in the adult learner.

  • Growth Mindset – It is so important for instructors to preach a growth mindset! Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking work on mindset opens the doors on improving learning through mindset. An effective instructor must be on the lookout for fixed mindsets, and champion growth mindsets.
  • Provide Feedback – Adult learners need positive feedback as they are learning! Low confidence questions like, “Am I doing this right?” or “Am I understanding this?” often float through a learner’s mind. Put those minds at ease by providing feedback often!
  • Giving Control – Similar to allowing learners choice over what they learn, giving a learner control of their learning environment will instill and inspire confidence. Because adults learn differently, this strategy allows for the learner to engage with the learning in the way they understand best.


Satisfaction is the final category in Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivation. Strategies in satisfaction allow the adult learner to engage with the learning in new ways. By the end of the learning experience, the learner should walk away satisfied and confident in their new knowledge or skill.

Below are a few strategies you can use to make sure your learner is satisfied with the learning.

  • Praise and Rewards – Positive feedback, in any form, feels good! Whether it is a certificate, a raise, or a smile and compliment, praise and rewards increase the level of satisfaction and motivation of adult learners.
  • Practice – Allowing the adult learner to practice their new skill before utilizing the skill in a professional setting can greatly increase the satisfaction of the learner. This strategy also helps increase the confidence of the learner!
  • Action Items – Giving the learner a specific action plan after their learning experience is vital. “So now what?” is another common question in trainings, and answering that question before it comes up connects the learning with its professional application.

The Importance of Evaluation


I had the opportunity to show some of my portfolio modules to some “outsiders” – people who don’t have a lot of experience with E Learning. I watched the outsiders work through some of my modules as an evaluation exercise, and it was very useful in understanding the flow and accessibility of the learning within my modules.

In any learning experience, it is very important to keep the “E” in “ADDIE” – evaluation – a constant part of your practice.

I previously posted about some changes I made to a Valentine’s Day module here. After my recent evaluation experience, I decided to focus on my Hospital Cleaning Module.

Hospital Cleaning Demo

There were two areas that I found the learning wasn’t as accessible within my original module design. To improve the design and learning experience, I added a few reminders, and more active buttons on the screen to draw the learner’s eye when necessary. This practice was valuable in recognizing the importance of constant evaluation when it comes to learning development.


Random Numbers


I’ve been exploring how to use javascript more effectively within Adobe Captivate. It’s actually easier, and a bit more powerful, than I realized before.

RND # Generator

Please forgive the simple graphics – this is a quick proof of concept!

Using javascript, I was able to create a random variable between the numbers 1 and 4 (like a four sided die). Next, I needed to have a text box show that variable, as it changed.

This actually turned out to be incredibly easy! I didn’t even need to declare a function in javascript (though with a complex project there would be benefits of doing so). I defined the random number variable as “d4” – and the text box that needed changing was named “d4roll.” The code I wrote is below.

var d4 = (Math.floor(Math.random() * 4)+1);
d4roll = d4;

As you can see, it’s just two lines – the first, identifying what the variables number will be, and the second, declaring the text box to be equal to the variable.

So, when the triangle button on the bottom of the module is pressed, a random number between 1 and 4 appears on the scroll above!

When I first started with Adobe Captivate, it seemed like a more flexible version of powerpoint. I’m beginning to see the power and utility behind the software, and it’s opening a lot of avenues for what I want to create in the future.

Valentines Module


I created this module in participation for this week’s E-Learning Challenge. The challenge asked for a Valentine themed game, template, or interactive infographic. I decided to create a “Last Minute Gift Purchaser” for valentine’s day. The idea is that the user, short on time before Valentine’s Day, would be given some quick gift ideas. They would select the ideas that seem best, click the “Buy Your Gifts” button, and a web page would open up ready to purchase the gift!

Valentines Gift Module

Valentines Module Images

While building this module, I ran into some functionality issues with Captivate. It appears you can only open four tabs at once – but my module required up to 8 tabs to be opened at once! So as a workaround, I wrote a short script with javascript that allowed the module to open all 8 tabs if the user selected all 8 gifts. Using javascript as a button action can really open the functionality and flexibility of the program.

Edit – 2/14: I wanted to edit this post for two reasons. First, the module I created was shown in the Articulate Challenge Valentine’s Recap post here! Second, you may notice some differences between the two posts. I made a few small design updates to the “final” version I posted to my blog, based on feedback and other fixes I wanted to make!

Hospital Cleaning Demo Complete


I just finished up my Hospital Cleaning Demo. It looks cleaner, trim, and was a bit more advanced than my previous modules.

I was looking for something that could be applied to health care setting that teaches a specific and important skill. The demo begins with attention and relevance, the first two action steps using Keller’s ARCS model of motivation. It continues building confidence, as the learner is show what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they will need for the job. Check out the demo below!

Hospital Cleaning Demo

Click for the Hospital Cleaning Demo

Edit 3/7/2019: I recently updated the Hospital Cleaning Module, linked here.