Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gaming to Increase Your Training ROI

Gaming is in its heyday, fueled by a confluence of accessible technology and the business case for learner engagement. If you've heard it once you've heard it a thousand times: fully engaged learners synthesize content, make deeper connections, retain learning, and improve their performance better than those who are not engaged. And in both face-to-face and online training spaces, well-designed games and activities are key for increasing learner engagement with opportunities to interact with core content and peer groups, and that interaction is essential for learning to occur. 

Whether you are working with a freelance instructional designer or designing training games in-house, this is the time to increase your training ROI with games and activities that: 
  • Align with learning objectives, learner characteristics, and expectations
  • Are rooted in course content
  • Offer opportunities for learners to practice core skills, get feedback, and improve their skills over time
  • Are manageable within the learning context (with regard to time, resource, and skill limitations)
  • Promote learner satisfaction and enjoyment

Like much of business, training is migrating online, and "e-learning" doesn't even come close to describing the range of training possibility that exists today. Instructional designers are dropping sales representatives into simulated realities to develop their skills in realistic scenarios; delivering just-in-time messaging to help them effectively manage customer objections; and giving employees exciting opportunities to develop essential skills in collaboration, communication, time management, and problem-solving with activities accessible from a variety of mobile devices. 
Training initiatives are vital and expensive. A qualified instructional designer understands the relationship between gaming and learning and can design training that ignites your trainees and gives you (and them) a solid return on your investment.


Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and
resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Schreiner, E. (2013). What are the benefits of games in education & learning activities? Retrieved from

Shank, P. (2006). Activities aren't optional. Online Classroom, 4-5. Retrieved from the Walden Library using the Education Research Complete database.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Setting up an Online Learning Experience

Starting well is essential for a successful online learning experience, and it doesn’t happen automatically.  A skilled facilitator spends the time necessary to achieve social, cognitive, and teaching presence from the outset (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010) and continues to actively support learners throughout the course according to their individual needs and learning styles.

Having a comprehensive understanding of available technology enables the facilitator to select the best technology for a particular application and to effectively coach learners who have not mastered the technology. Without technological clarity, a facilitator may overload herself and the learners with unnecessary tasks or technology that interferes with learning (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

It is essential to clearly communicate expectations to learners. Most adult learners are goal-oriented, and mastery of skills boosts their confidence and improves their self-esteem (Malamed, 2013). Learners need to understand expectations so they can take steps to meet them and feel satisfied with their online learning experience (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

When setting up an online learning experience, facilitators should provide an opportunity for learners to share biographical information. This fosters openness and community, and also provides a frame of reference for the facilitator when interacting with learners in discussion forums. When a facilitator uses student names and references relevant biographical information, this personalizes the learning experience and promotes learner engagement (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

Conversely, facilitators need to be aware that some learners are reluctant to share personal information for fear of being stereotyped (e.g., by race, gender, ethnicity, geography, relationship status, etc. (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). Personal information should be invited, not required. As well, when designing ice breakers and discussion prompts, facilitators should allow learners to choose from activities with varying degrees of openness.

Great beginnings lead to great middles and great endings!



Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer) (n.d.) Launching the Online Learning Experience [DVD] Baltimore: MD.

Malamed, C. (2013).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Online Learning Communities

How do online learning communities significantly impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses? Compared to traditional education, online learning communities offer more opportunities for learner-to-learner engagement (Laureate, n.d.). Through online learning communities learners exchange ideas and information with more and further flung peers than is possible in traditional educational settings. This aggregation of multiple intelligence (Gardner, 2003) exposes learners to different learning styles, which can increase student satisfaction and both real and perceived learning (Gilbert & Han, 2002).

What are the essential elements of online community building? The goal on an online learning community is “a sense of co-created knowledge and meaning” (Laureate, n.d.). Essential elements are those that support that goal, including:
• Orientation to online learning and to the course
• Navigation that is intuitive and clear for learners with varying degrees of technical ability
• Presence of the facilitator or instructor early and often
• Invitation to students to post a bio of themselves
• Feedback that is timely, specific, and supportive (Laureate, n.d.).

How can online learning communities be sustained? The long-term health of an online learning community depends on robust and ongoing co-creation of learning experiences in which learners and facilitators participate and evolve to the fullness of their abilities (Laureate, n.d.).

What is the relationship between community building and effective online instruction? Having been a member of an online learning community for 14 months, I know that community is a prerequisite for effective online instruction. You don't have to take my word for it: “Knowledge is literally the set of connections between entities, or the adjustment of the strengths of those connections,” (Downes, 2012) and “Experiences with the environment are critical to learning,” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

What did you learn that will help you become a more effective instructor in the future? I learn most about this by example, and I will seek to replicate the successes of some of my online professors who are:
• Organized – Online learning is fast-paced and intense. Instructors with excellent time and project management skills afford their students the best opportunities to interact with information and each other and thus, make deeper connections with the course material.
• Present – Online instructors who establish social presence in the community set a tone of openness and collaboration. Instructors who are present are able to probe for understanding and challenge learners to reflect deeply on course material, so they can enrich the group discussions.
• Clear – Instructors who give clear direction enable students to deliver as expected and experience mastery of course material.

Sally Bacchetta

Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and Connective Knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks.

Ertmer, P. and Newby, T. (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), pp. 50-72.

Gardner, H. (2003, April 21). Multiple intelligences after 20 years. Paper presented to the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. Retrieved from

Gilbert, J.E. & Han, C.Y. (2002). Arthur: A personalized instructional system. Journal of Network and Computing Applications, 22(3), 149-160.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Online Learning Communities [DVD] Baltimore, MD

Monday, July 1, 2013

Continuing the Journey

Today I move into the next leg of my journey toward a Master's degree in Instructional Design with a course called Online Instructional Strategies. I'm glad you've come along. I'm looking forward to more growing and learning together. Welcome!

Sally Bacchetta

Insights on Program Evaluation

Having just completed a Program Evaluation course at Walden University, I reflect here on the experience.

I didn’t realize that the process of creating and presenting my program evaluation plan was central to my learning until it was done. It was in pulling the disparate pieces of the plan together into a cohesive whole that I found meaning. Only then did I realize that had I not thoroughly explored the program context; not stretched myself to identify primary and secondary stakeholders and their interests, needs, and biases; not named my values and committed myself to them; not reflected on my own biases; not considered the impact of my report, my evaluation plan, which may have held together well enough to bring me to the last week of the course, would ultimately have failed the final analysis.

Program evaluation can inform what needs to change and form the basis of a change management plan, but first, it must fit the program context. It is incumbent on the evaluator to consider how contextual factors may inform the selection of an evaluation model. Program evaluation is inherently a political process, and an evaluator who ignores, avoids, or mismanages the political realities of evaluation limits the effectiveness and usefulness of the process (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2010.

This experience has shown me that working with stakeholders is one of the most challenging aspects of program evaluation. The important work of planning a program evaluation can be upset by stakeholder conflict, politics, bias, and unexpected manifestations of organizational culture. And yet, as an evaluator, I have a professional obligation to find my way to promote meaningful evaluation and the application of evaluation results by stakeholders (Fitzpatrick et al., 2010).

Technology can facilitate communication with stakeholders and simplify the processes of data collection, data management, and research (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.), but it is only a tool; the evaluator must provide the raw material and craft the work. In every phase of evaluation it is incumbent on the evaluator to uphold the priority of justice (Schweigert, 2007); to mine the program context for cultural cues, gaps in understanding, potential bias; and feasibility; and to demonstrate and promote respect for stakeholders and the evaluation process. Bias is the weed that pervades the evaluation process, from the evaluator’s preference for a particular approach or data collection design to overt or covert liking of some stakeholders more than others, finding some steps of the evaluation process more interesting, more compelling, or more exhausting than others. The presence of bias is a given. Evaluators must be frankly self-reflective about their role in the evaluation process and circumspect about client requests, so as to minimize the potential for bias and ethical compromise (Fitzpatrick et al., 2010).

At some point, situational circumstance requires evaluators to make interpretations and best guesses (Schweigert, 2007), which are subject to bias and ethical compromise. I carry with me from this course Sieber’s (1980) conclusion that “being ethical in program evaluation is a process of growth in understanding, perception, and creative problem-solving ability that respects the interests of individuals and of society” (p. 53).

Sally Bacchetta

American Evaluation Association, 2004. Guiding principles. Retrieved from Principles.asp.

Fetterman, D. (2001). The transformation of evaluation into a collaboration: A vision of evaluation in the 21st century. American Journal of Evaluation, 22(3), 381–384. Retrieved from the Education Research Complete database

Fitzpatrick, J., Sanders, J., & Worthen, B. (2010). Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009). Formative and Summative Evaluation. [DVD] United States.

Schweigert, F. J. (2007). The priority of justice: A framework approach to ethics in program evaluation. Evaluation and Program Planning, 30(4), 394–399.

Sieber, J. E. (1980). Being ethical: Professional and personal decisions in program evaluation. In R.E. Perloff & E. Perloff (Eds.), Values, ethics, and standards in evaluation. New Directions for Program Evaluation, No. 7, 51-61. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Worthen, B. (2001). Whither evaluation? That all depends. American Journal of Evaluation, 22(3), 409–416. Retrieved from the Education Research Complete database