How to love content (3 of 3)

In my previous two posts I talked about the venerable instructional design tool of content types, and how used them in my own computer based training designs in the 90s but found that they weren’t so accessible to others in design classes I taught. Today I’ll bring it up to date and suggest where this kind of tool can be useful.

BramblesBy the mid 90s the idea of Learning Objects, what dieticians call bite-size chunks, was gaining currency and, tired of bloated hour-long elearning courses, I was a keen advocate. I devised a concept for a hyperlinked bank of these things, just before it became apparent that the web where everything was going. Calling it The Learning Bank, I remember touting it to Donald Clark (then at Epic), who rewarded me with a few lunchtime pints, after which neither of us could recall what we had been talking about.

But I’d seen that these things were of most value as a tool for someone who was confident using them, as the basis for a conversation. So, for example, as a framework for discussing pieces of information an SME can’t articulate. (Why can’t they? See The SME Test).

In 2003 I discovered Clive Shepherd had developed the idea into a Learning Object Design Assistant, only he’d expanded the number of content types to include Structure, Rule, Stage in Process, Definition, Worked Example and so on: virtually every type of Learning Object you might want to create. Clive’s Learning Object Design Assistant or LODA is still available at

I liked the idea but thought it would be overwhelming for an SME or even a trainer, who weren’t living in an instructional design world, to be faced with 20 types. LODA was great as a tool for designers but I was interested in a simple template I could give an SME to focus them on some essential questions, the answers to which would provide the smallest possible amount of information a designer could build a presentation, some interactions, and a course around. I devised some Word templates but by this time, at Lloyds, I was getting drawn away from creating learning content and more into designing portals and websites so I never got the chance to use the templates.

One change I made to them, however, pointed to my future interests. I’d renamed them. ‘Concept’ became ‘Category’ or in one version ‘Types of …’. Process became ‘How … works’ and procedure became ‘How to …’. Example?

In today’s learning world, you don’t hear a lot about learning objectives or Bloom’s taxonomy. But you do hear a lot about performance support, both in mobile content and in electronic performance support systems (EPSS).

I believe the content types idea still has merit in designing job aids. Unlike the CBT of the 1990s and elearning of this decade, the focus will be less on concepts and more on procedures – how-to, with concepts and process providing background information. (Principles are more likely to be useful in pure ‘apply’ situations, in other words elearning scenarios. )

I like Bob Mosher‘s template for a piece of support material, which takes the form of a pyramid. At the top we have the simple steps, bare bones:

  1. start here
  2. do this
  3.  do this
  4. do that
  5. do that

This is one screen, or the top of a document.

It contains links to level 2, which would give more detail:

* what it might look like (if it’s a system)
* why you do this, what will happen if you don’t (in other words, process, and possibly linking to a map of the entire process of which this procedure is a part)
* terms you have to understand (fact and concept)

Mosher then talks about level 3, which I won’t go into here.

Mosher and Gottfriedson's Performance Support Pyramid
Mosher and Gottfriedson’s Performance Support Pyramid

So a template for capturing a procedure (a ‘how-to’) would ask questions like

* list the stages
* what process is this part of?
* why is the procedure there?
* why is this step there? what happens further down the process if it isn’t done right?
* what concepts do people have to understand to carry out this procedure?

For the concepts:

* what’s the definition?
* give some familiar examples
* give some examples which are clearly not this
* give some less clear examples

I plan to develop my templates both as templates for performance support and for getting knowledge from SMEs.  If there’s a demand, I’ll make them available here.

Have you used templates of this kind, for capturing SME knowledge or for designing courses or interactions? Please share your thoughts.

Cathy MooreI discussed them with Cathy Moore, who was challenging as always; she was against using them for elearning, even for capturing information from SMEs – you should be doing it in discussion,  not templates, and it just encourages them to think in terms of dishing out content. But I think she accepted they would be a good tool for developing performance support.


No 1 in this series

No 2 in this series

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