Archive for April, 2011


Working as an instructional designer is a very logical thing for a student of English. There’s plenty of reading, for a start, and the variety of material is a great way of keeping your literacy razor sharp. But there’s often the temptation to lapse into Modern Business Jargon (let’s call it MBJ). For example, starting an email with:

‘Dear Whatsit,
Please find attached for your review…’

Or ending with:

‘…and this, going forward, should ensure that project timescales are adhered to.
Kind regards,
Etc. etc.’

What’s really funny is that when you speak to someone who does this, they are – more often than not – not actually in the employ of Q Branch or some other excessively jargonistic and bureaucratic cobwebbed corner of central government.

So why does seating people in front of Outlook give them this bizarre elevation of style? And why does it creep into our work? As an instructional designer, I make it my daily crusade to weed out these little glimpses of the highfalutin author in us all. But why ask me when we can go back and read some Orwell instead? So here are six top tips for your writing, in a small (but heartfelt) homage to George.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    Fairly self-explanatory. I’d summarise this one as ‘NO CLICHÉS PLEASE (WE’RE BRITISH)’.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    At a recent workshop at BT, I learned that it’s okay to use words like ‘get’ (instead of ‘obtain’), ‘do’ (instead of ‘perform’) and ‘add’ (instead of ‘integrate’).
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    A good example from Moira: ‘Please accept my apologies for this oversight.’ Why not just ‘sorry for the mistake’? Personally, if I had to first of all suffer the inconvenience of a costly mistake, the last thing I’d want to do is waste 30 seconds of time getting to the point of a long-winded apology. Brevity is… wit.
  4. Never use the passive when you can use the active.
    Ever find yourself writing something along the lines of ‘this is usually actioned by the client management team’? Try using ‘the client team usually does this’. It gets the point across much more clearly and succinctly. Across a half-hour course, ten passive-to-active revisions can have a huge impact on its overall legibility.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    This is one of my favourites – when writing a course for an English audience, write in English. Sounds obvious, but in actual fact, using words with the English roots rather than (say) Latin ones, can make a course easier to read because it will scan better. For example, use ‘ask’ (actually a word with its root in West Germanic) instead of ‘inquire’. An important thing to remember, especially if you are writing for a wide audience.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
    Aha, the ‘sense-check’ at the end. Ultimately, the choice of language will rest with you and your own understanding of what you are writing and what message you need to convey. There’s no sense in wasting time reinventing the wheel and trying to find an English equivalent for ‘Schadenfreude’.
  7. Here are a few links to get you started on your own voyage of rediscovering the simple English language:


As compliance managers and training managers will (hopefully) already be aware, the Bribery Act 2010 will be coming into effect on 1st July this year. That means the clock is now ticking – there are less than three months left in which organisations can train their people to ensure they and the business stay on the right side of the law.

It can, as with any legislation, be difficult to identify the absolute key points amongst the pages and pages of legal language. This is especially true because bribery itself and bribery legislation are nothing new. So allow me to do the hard work for you and highlight what you really need to know about the Bribery Act 2010.

  • It’s tough. In fact, it’s been described as ‘the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world’As a result, it’s easier to breach than previous legislation. What’s more, ignorance or the lack of corrupt intent is no excuse.
  • The results of such breaches are severe. Reputational damage or a fine for the organisation might not matter hugely to individual employees. Criminal prosecution and jail sentences for individuals at all levels of the corporate hierarchy might.

But don’t panic just yet. If your organisation is found to have breached the Act, there’s a full defence as long as you can show that you had ‘adequate procedures’ in place to prevent bribery. So what does this mean?

  • What counts as ‘adequate procedures’ varies. If yours is a large organisation or one that operates overseas, you’ll face a bigger risk of bribery than a small company or one that only operates within the UK. As such, your bribery prevention measures and due diligence need to be more thorough.
  • Your commitment to preventing bribery needs to be demonstrated from the top, with senior leaders ensuring that everyone understands you don’t tolerate bribery. This is a serious responsibility – don’t just assume it goes without saying. You also need to make sure all staff work within your policies and procedures, so training is advisable.

So it’s acknowledged that the training required for a smaller or lower risk organisation is different from the training required for larger or international organisations. But it is required nonetheless.

The Bribery Act guidance published by the government is a hefty 45-page document. You might still want to read this at some point, but for now I’ve pulled out the key points relating to training (with my emphasis added).

  • ‘Training provides the knowledge and skills needed to employ the organisation’s procedures and deal with any bribery related problems or issues that may arise.’
  • ‘General training could be mandatory for new employees […] but it should also be tailored to the specific risks associated with specific posts.’
  • ‘Training ought to achieve its objective of ensuring that those participating in it develop a firm understanding of what the relevant policies and procedures mean in practice for them.’

And this brings us to the crux of the matter. You’d be wise to invest in some form of anti-bribery training for your staff, and you’d be wise to make sure it’s the best investment possible. Whatever form of training you choose, we recommend:

  • Focusing on the practical application of the Act. Keep it short and to the point. What situations should employees be aware of as potentially risky? What action should they take if they find themselves in such a situation? All the associated policies, procedures and clarifications can be stored and accessed elsewhere.
  • Providing an element of role-based tailoring. All staff need a basic level of training, but some of your staff, for example those in procurement, will be higher risk where bribery is concerned. Opt for a training solution that acknowledges those differences, making it a better user experience and also more time-efficient for your business.
  • Including both corporate and individual perspectives. To make the message hit home, you’ve got to go beyond talking about reputational damage. For example, illustrate how that can translate to a decline in business, which in turn can lead to cutbacks in salaries or even in staff. Make the Bribery Act matter to each individual.

There are plenty of off-the-shelf courses available (including our own customisable offering), and if you’re designing your own training, maybe some of our compliance tips will be useful?


Following the government’s publication of guidance last week, the Bribery Act 2010 will come into effect on 1st July this year. With three months for organisations to prepare, we’ve released a free preview of our anti-bribery and corruption e-learning course.

The course, which was launched last week, embodies Saffron’s award-winning approach and is ready to reploy immediately. It lasts around 30 minutes, and ensures compliance and competence through carefully designed scenarios and a focus on behaviours rather than legal theory.

Nick Simons, our CTO, says: ‘You know it’s a Saffron course because it focuses on the everyday choices that learners make at work. That principle aligns perfectly with the Ministry of Justice guidelines on the Act: “the training ought to achieve its objective of ensuring that those participating in it develop a firm understanding of what the relevant policies and procedures mean in practice for them.”‘

The course can be customised quickly and easily to include details specific to an organisation if appropriate. Saffron has also created a range of packages to cater to the differing needs and environments of large corporates, mid-sized companies and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Click here for more details of the packages available, or take a look at the free preview.


So we shot and we shared. At Learning Technologies 2011, we ran an experiment in social learning by inviting people to be filmed answering one of six questions about our industry, such as how were they using social media in learning and what did they think was the best use of mobile technology. We shared these short videos by uploading them, after some simple editing, to our YouTube channel.

The lure was the promise of a Flip Minio camera, the type we used in shooting, and the prize will go to the most valued contribution. So please visit our channel and pass on the links of your favourite videos to colleagues and friends. Vote with your mouse! I’ll wait here until you get back.

What was the outcome of our experiment? We were delighted to upload a valuable collection of ideas and suggestions that forms a resource for everyone. What we wanted to show was that producing such a resource can be achieved at very low cost. And from that point of view, this experiment was an unqualified success.

This in part gives us an answer to the question: how do we get started with social learning? Our answer: just get started! The technology we used is cheap to acquire and easy to use. As with the knowledge management projects of the past, we aspire to capture the know-how of individuals and teams that would not otherwise be shared throughout the organisation. We argue that there is a sense in which everyone is an expert in something useful: even a new starter has experience of the recruitment and on-boarding process and can share that information with others.

Unlike those old knowledge management projects, you’re not looking to fill shelves of ring binders before you can release something useful to your colleagues. It’s easy to start off with a small collection and let it grow over time. One caveat: be sure to make it searchable (or findable, as we like to say) and plan and implement your tagging carefully.

Video also interests us at Saffron because you can go a long way if you don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by questions of production values. How far can you take this? If you’re a fan of TED, you may have seen Salman Khan talking about the video library he created to educate his younger cousins that has grown into the Khan Academy, whose resources are now being used by schools in California. One teacher has remarked that they now set the video ‘lectures’ as homework and work through the exercises (which they used to set as homework) in class, turning the experience of education upside down.

For all that Khan’s presentation gets a ringing endorsement from Bill Gates at the end, I don’t want to get carried away by this. As another teacher has remarked, they never ‘lectured’ in the classroom to a passive audience, anyway, but instead conducted a conversational session with their students. But there’s surely a point to be made in Khan’s favour about the power of technology (and cheap and easy video technology in particular) to transform the way we think about and practise learning.

So, let me encourage you to shoot and share for yourselves. If you’re looking to get started with social learning, here’s how: aim to grow a library of videos of your colleagues, sharing know-how with their peers.

PS If you’re not a follower of TED, I’d really recommend checking it out: a steady and varied stream of interesting and entertaining presentations and performances, from Naomi Klein talking about our society’s addiction to risk to Jake Shimabukuro playing Bohemian Rhapsody on a Hawaiian ukulele.


Do you struggle to effectively evaluate your e-learning? Are you still trying to figure out how to use mobile devices for effective learning? Is social learning still something of an enigma to you?

With the help of the learning and development community, we’ve created a video library full of useful tips and anecdotes on these topics and more.

Throughout Learning Technologies 2011, we conducted short interviews with speakers, exhibitors and visitors, asking them to answer one of six questions about social, mobile or e-learning covering design, strategy and evaluation. The result is an invaluable online resource, hosted on Saffron’s YouTube channel.

Nick Simons, Saffron’s CTO, says: ‘There’s a lot of expertise in every organisation that turns out to be restricted to just one or to a few individuals. Our ‘shoot to share’ experiment illustrates how you can easily turn this know-how into a resource for everyone, using readily available video technology and social media.’

We’ll be awarding a Flip video camera to the most useful video clip, so visit our YouTube channel and share your favourite to help increase its contributor’s chance of winning.

For more information about using video for learning, Learning and Skills Group members can access a webinar on using video in the social media mix, presented by our very own Nick Simons and Catherine Blanchard.




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