Archive for July, 2010

Social media is a hot topic in all industries and businesses nowadays. However, research has proven that the charity sector and volunteering movement is not maximising the potential of social networks – less than 25% of volunteer involving organisations and support services are using them.

Saffron is striving to change this by organising a social media workshop in collaboration with the not for profit partnership Time &Talents, the reputation management consultancy ReputationInc and Whizz-Kidz, a charity for disabled young people.

Taking place on Thursday 29 July 2010, the workshop has been designed to help charity and community organisations overcome the challenges they face with social media and to learn more about using the various platforms to enhance their services.

 Key barriers are:

  • A lack of knowledge and confidence on how to use social media
  • A lack of a strong business case to invest time and resources
  • Confusion over the number of social networks available
  • Problems with firewalls preventing access
  • Concerns about sharing personal and professional data

Kim George, from Saffron’s award winning instructional design team, will be co-facilitating the workshop, presenting case studies of organisations successfully using social media and running surgery-style sessions. In these sessions, charity representatives will have the opportunity to share their real life social media challenges with media professionals and gain tips on raising their profile, promoting their services, spreading ideas and gaining volunteers via social media.

If you’re from a charity or community organisation wanting to find out more about social media or if you’re a social media enthusiast or marketing executive who can offer guidance and advice, we want to hear from you! For a place at the workshop, contact

Three months ago, completely new to the world of e-learning, I was given some time by Saffron to do as much research as I could on instructional design and effective learning strategies before starting my first project. It was rather daunting, but I leapt to the challenge and one of the ways I found out what good instructional design looks like was to review some of Saffron’s past courses and do some research online. Now that I have experience of both writing and reviewing courses, there are a few things that I’ve learnt. So, if you’re also new to this industry, read on for my thoughts on how best to write an engaging e-learning course that achieves the desired behavioural changes.

Firstly, anyone in the e-learning industry will encourage you to be innovative with your writing and while this is certainly a worthy aim, before leaping straight into an exciting approach, you should first look at what has worked well in the past. I’ve learnt that addressing the learner directly is really effective (using ‘you’), as it will make them feel that the course is relevant and designed specifically with them in mind. Using the active tense rather than the passive tense is often a good way to infuse some energy into your writing. Also, try to inject emotion – perhaps by adding humor – because emotion engages like nothing else does.

Secondly, keeping the learning outcomes in sight is essential because otherwise the training will drift away from the course objectives. So glance at the learning outcomes after you’ve written a few screens of a course and imagine being asked by an uninspired reader just why they need to know this. Keep doing this every now and again – although it may seem time consuming, it really did save me time in the long run and ensured that I kept on track!

Thirdly, really understanding the content is a crucial part of instructional design. Imagine this scenario: you’ve been given the material for a course and it’s about, say, VAT or financial management. Your task is to get to grips with said content and mould it into an engaging, interactive storyboard. How? Sustainable (and transmittable) ideas only come to those who really spend time familiarising themselves with the content – it’s an ID’s job to become the expert. Also, read a little around the area – you won’t necessarily use everything you research but it will increase both your knowledge and confidence and it’s that which will show in your writing – and engage the learner.

Fourthly, know your audience. You can’t structure content coherently unless you understand who they are and what they need to learn. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to include as much content as possible, to cover every eventuality, and trawling through text which isn’t personally relevant to them can make a learner switch off double quick. Knowing your audience also means you’ll be able to use realistic examples and scenarios familiar to them. You should aim for the learner’s sigh of recognition, their empathy and emotional involvement, which is likely to lead to better retention of information.

Lastly, signposting is something which should be included in every storyboard written by a good instructional designer. The learner only has the screen in front of them to indicate where they are in the course and what’s left to cover, so it’s important that they’re reminded of what’s coming up and what they’ve already learnt. Why? Because that way they not only understand how each screen is linked, but they are also able to organise their time and choose how much of the course to take in one sitting. Having a sense of control over their own learning will further engage them and can only add to their positive experience of an e-learning course.

So here lie my words of wisdom but I’m sure there are many points which I have missed as I’m still learning about instructional design every day. But these are good pointers to start with, and I hope that they help any new instructional designers as much as they helped me!

Plain English isn’t dull writing, and it’s not about banning new or long words. It’s all about using words that are easier to read and understand, and faster to write! Here are our top ten tips for writing an e-learning course in plain English.

1. Think before you write

It’s crucial to plan the structure of an e-learning course. List the topics which need to be covered. Make a note of the points you want to cover on each screen. Focus on the learning objectives – and bear them in mind as you write!

2. Keep your sentences short

Clear writing should have an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words. Be concise. Try to stick to one idea in each sentence, and vary your writing by mixing short sentences (like the last one) with longer ones (like this one).

3. Write like you speak

One of the most effective ways to engage a learner is to use everyday English. Scrap the jargon and avoid legalese, and always explain any technical terms and acronyms. A light and conversational tone works wonders for learning.

4. Use active verbs…

Active sentences sound more crisp and punchy, and will bring life to your writing. So, for a health and safety course, instead of ‘the accident was prevented by the employee’ why not write ‘the employee prevented the accident’?

5. …but don’t ignore passive verbs

It’s tempting to steer clear of the passive voice but there are times where it may be better to use: to avoid allocating blame for example (such as ‘a mistake was made’ rather than ‘we made a mistake’), or if it simply sounds better.

6. Avoid nominalisations

Nominalisations are a type of abstract noun and are formed from verbs. They make writing really dull and difficult to read so rather than ‘the introduction for the event was presented by the team’ write ‘the team introduced the event’ instead.

7. Imagine you’re talking to the learner

One of the most effective ways to emulate the best aspects of classroom training is to involve the learner by addressing them as‘you’. Why not make them feel even more included by saying ‘we’ – it will add a human element to your writing.

8. Give instructions

Remember! Click the image below. Take a look inside your resources folder. These are all commands and are the fastest and most direct way to give instructions. Don’t be afraid to be bossy in e-learning – you won’t scare the learner!

9. Don’t be afraid to list

As I mentioned in a previous blog, not even lists have to be boring. They are useful for splitting up information in an e-learning course and, as long as they have bullets and are logical, they will draw the learner’s attention to each point.

10. Blitz those myths

You can start a sentence with ‘but’, ‘so’ or ‘however’ because that’s how we speak. And you can end a sentence with a preposition, like ‘for’. You can also split infinitives and seize the opportunity to boldly cause grammatical controversy!

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