Ruth: “Nick, “When do you think you’ll have your proposed blog entry ready?”

Nick: “I’m hoping to be able to sketch you something soon.”

Ruth: “Is ‘something soon’ your target?”

Nick: “Yes.”

Ruth:” It doesn’t sound all that SMART a target to me.”

Ruth is, of course absolutely spot on; my suggested ‘target’ was neither SMART nor was it smart. You’re probably familiar with the acronym SMART in the context of setting targets – it’s the idea that targets must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely in order to be successful. Using this checklist, you can see that my target was too vague, and therefore bound to fail.

My favourite example of a SMART target can be found in President John F Kennedy’s speech to the US Congress in May 1961; the context is the Cold War and (obviously) the Space Race. Kennedy (and/or his team of speechwriters) came up with something that I regard as fairly flawless and in fact exemplary:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

As you can see, although this target was ambitious, it was also conforms to all of the standards of a SMART target. If you disagree, please comment below!

Being able to formulate a SMART target is a skill that every project manager needs to acquire- however, the benefits of SMART targets extend well beyond the working world. It means that projects have a measurable chance of success from the very start, rather than a series of vague outcomes which won’t result in behavioural change.
However, what about training learners online to conform to SMART targets? Most elearning courses begin with a series of learning objectives, and generally these objectives are all stated in a similar form: “Having completed this course, you will be able to…” As we all know, the learning objectives should then continue with a verb.

However, often, I see such verbs as ‘list’ or ‘state’ or ‘describe’ or even, in one case,(I’m not making this up, honestly) ‘recite’. These verbs are nearly always inappropriate for workplace e-learning. Why? First, because they are not testable online in the way that they may be testable in a classroom with a trainer present. Second, because stating, listing and describing (not to mention reciting) are rarely suitable workplace behaviours, so it’s extremely unlikely that the client or sponsor for the really wants to train their people in such behaviour. Workplace training should be about the everyday choices that people make. Hence the verbs in learning objectives should be about testable choices such as ‘select’ ‘identify and ‘distinguish’.

Let me give you an example from an online course about the UK Bribery Act 2010. In the UK, the law on bribery is quite stringent, but at the same time hospitality has not been banned outright. In these circumstances, it seems reasonable to me that the learning objectives should be: “Having completed this course, you will be able to distinguish an acceptable gift from an illegal bribe.” I suggest that we can generalise from this example.

Often it makes sense to me that we train our learners to be critics rather than authors. Rather than setting the over-ambitious (and probably not testable) objectives “Having read this blog post you will be able to formulate SMART targets.” I’d much rather that we say “Having read this blog post you will be able to identify where a proposed target fails to be SMART and to find ways to remedy those failings. As always the art lies in finding options that are incorrect but at the same time plausible. A significant yet common failing of e-learning, particularly compliance training, is that the correct and the incorrect options are both far too obvious, leaving the poor learners with the feeling that they are being patronised – a surefire way of losing their interest and attention.

So next time you’re designing learning, make sure that it’s focused in this way – if you’ve got SMART learning objectives, you’re well on your way to designing a course that will fulfil your requirements. Learners will be able to implement the behaviours they’ve been trained in and make an impact, rather than just ‘listing’ or ‘reciting’ what they’ve learnt. In the early stages of a project, securing learner’s enthusiasm is absolutely vital. John F. Kennedy recognised this during his speech, stating that ‘every technician, contractor and civil servant must give his personal pledge that this nation will move forwards’. There is no replacement for engagement and enthusiasm at every level of an organisation, and a SMART target is a great place to start!

Following on from our webinar last week (you can find the recording here), we wanted to show that improving knowledge management doesn’t always have to cost a great deal of time and money. Here are seven easy-to-implement changes and smart investments you can make to improve knowledge management systems:

1.     The future is search-powered

If your search tool is developed properly, it has the potential to bring knowledge that employees might not even have known their organisation possesses, into the light. Your KMS needs to have a search architecture that is comprehensive and predictive, as well as being easy to use. The search tool should draw on similar searches in order to enable employees to gather information they may not have known they had, but which may prove useful to them nevertheless.

2.     The future is profile-led

All too often, we think of a profile space as ‘ours’, rather than a place other users can come to find out about our capabilities. An informative KMS profile page should offer information about curated experiences and result in applicable insights. It should also allow users to collaborate and get in touch, adding a ‘human’ context to this information. A profile that’s comprehensively filled out will boost a user’s reputation at their organisation; gamified features such as a dashboard, will also encourage users to complete their profiles and help users to take responsibility for their role in knowledge management.

3.     Make your KMS easy to navigate

Your KMS has got to be easy to use. A massive reason why knowledge management initiatives fail is because they simply aren’t user-friendly enough.  Scrambled URLs or pages embedded in iFrames make it harder for people to note exactly where useful information is stored. A KMS that is browser-based and offers straightforward URLs is far easier to organise, curate and share.

4.     Organise content in other ways, instead of by ‘top-level category’

All that this really entails is thinking in a more pragmatic and ‘semantic’ way about categories for content. Top level categories like ‘ERP’, ‘SharePoint’ and so on aren’t as helpful as a larger number of more focussed and contextualised categories. Categorising information available according to roles might be helpful. For example, ‘new starter’ or ‘returner’ pathways could contain induction or refresher content. Categories of this sort would depend on a variety of variables, rather than just one, in order to find the most appropriate course to make sure that insight is applicable.

5.     Implement a content creation framework

Users nearly always find it difficult to work out whether knowledge is current and relevant or not. Make sure that all pages within the KMS are built around a framework that answers the ‘Who, What, When, Where, Why’ questions for all users. This information can be filled in as part of a ‘contribution form’ so that will be readily available to users.

6.     Invest in analytics

Analytics are the single most important thing you should invest in for your knowledge management system. For a system that’s so dependent on people contributing, having a dashboard based on analytics that will make your KMS easier-to-use and make content curation easier. When in place, analytics can act as a force multiplier, leveraging the information you’ve already got access to and making it easier to apply the insights this data can offer.

7.     Make participation in knowledge management mainstream and incentivise contributions

Company-wide webinars and events could be very useful here in terms of triggering an overall cultural shift in attitudes towards knowledge management. Gamified elements can be built into your KMS to reward top contributors etc. but in the short term, offering prizes and making knowledge management part of your performance expectations will be necessary in order to shift people towards making contributions on a regular basis.

Want to talk more about improving knowledge management in your organisation? Get in touch.

Increasingly here at Saffron, we’ve been asked to create courses so that they’re suitable for translation. In today’s globalised business world, working across linguistic borders has become extremely common. This means it’s essential that you remember that any content you’re writing may need to be translated throughout the design process.

When working in this way, attention to detail becomes vital, and although working in translation may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be this way. Below are my top five tips for creating a course in translation to make it as easy as possible.

  • Special characters – To display special characters which feature accents, or are not taken from the Latin alphabet (the one we use in English) in web pages, we have to specify them as HTML codes. This page contains the familiar names and corresponding numerical codes to use to display foreign characters

  • Layout – Always double space any content because content in other languages may be lengthier than in English. For example, for a quiz interaction which would require showing a question, answer options and feedback in a resolution of 1000x700px, consider that the layout should allow enough room to contain at least double the size of the content in English

  • Images – It’s always better to use images common to all languages to avoid any last minute surprises. These images must be instantly recognisable to people from all backgrounds. It’s best to make sure that everything is as clear and simple as possible.  Images with content might need translation, so list them all and plan during the project kick off stage

  • Translation items – Prepare a list of items like navigation buttons or links which need to be translated beforehand. If the changes are left during the development stage, there is a chance that they won’t be found until the final review is carried out. The easiest way to work through this systematically is to use an excel document and create columns for each language, and get them all translated in advance

  • Links – Check out the links which might link up to pages written in the incorrect language. Tooltips or Alt texts are often left out in English, though they should be included when working with other languages, so this should also be considered

  • So, there you have it, my top five tips to consider when creating courses or websites in translation. Having to work in this way is great when it comes to learning, because it means that we constantly have to be mindful of the most straightforward learning strategy we can possibly use. As well as condiering the fact that learning must be easy to understand for learners of all ability levels, but also that it must be easy to understand for people of different nationalities.

    It’s really important to be aware that your work may need to be translated right from the start of the design process, rather than only thinking about it at the final stage of development. With the growth of multi-national organisations seeking elearning content, this is more important than ever before, and, if you follow these tips you’ll find that you don’t have to be an expert linguist to be able to start working on translation.

    Picture the scene – having submitted your work in time to meet a tight deadline, you take a moment to collect your thoughts whilst perusing the very work you’ve just submitted with an air of pride.

    But wait, what’s this? Your post-deadline euphoria is shattered in an instant as you realise that you’ve made a glaring error in your submission.

    In this situation, options are limited – after all, it’s already too late. However, there are ways to avoid such a nightmare-ish scenario. You can build in a thorough Quality Assurance (QA) process at every stage. This will ensure that all of your work is finished to the highest possible standard, without any nasty surprises at the end of a project. Quality Assurance is a process designed to ensure that software processes (designing, developing etc.) and products (the software, associated data, documentation and paperwork) are completed to a particular standard. The QA process itself means ensuring that existing standards and procedures are followed throughout the software development lifecycle. It is essential that development and implementation follow monitoring, product evaluation, audits and testing.

    QA’ing is not always easy. Requirements change, and often users have different ideas about how they think the software should work. The more complex the product, the more complex the process becomes, but it must remain a universal standard that can be controlled, measured and repeated. QA’ing should be seen as a learning process – good for staff members as well as business overall.

    What are the aims of QA?

    Software development, like any complex development activity, is a process full of risks. The risks here are twofold – both technical and programmatical. On the technical side, there is always the risk that software will not perform as it ought, or will be too difficult to browse or modify. Programmatic risks include projects over-running with regard to costs or schedule. The QA process aims to mitigate both types of risk, and, if enforced systematically, can help when it comes to planning for future projects.

    In order to mitigate risk, it is essential that standards are put in to place. Without a proper QA process, it is inevitable that things will slip through the net, either in terms of process or the finished product itself.

    How to review 

    Here are a few quick tips to make sure that you’re reviewing everything properly.

    1. Define the criteria – Do you have a checklist of what to look for?
    2. Perform the check
    3. Record your results
    4. Share, discuss and implement the changes required
    5. Version control the documents involved

    Here are a few common pitfalls you might want to look out for:

    • Poor requirements or user stories
    • Unrealistic
    • Inadequate testing
    • Featuritis – the excessive use of features with no real meaning
    • Miscommunication

    What does the QA’er do?

    The QA resource records the set requirements and then develops a test matrix. She confirms that all set requirements are testable and coincide with the project objectives. They then edit the documents and confirms they meet the objectives and the quality standards for documents before recording the completion criteria for the current phase.

    The QA’er identifies any conflicts or discrepancies between the final design of the system and the initial proposal for the system, before confirming that an acceptable resolution has been reached between the project team and the client.

    Using the test matrix, the QA’er develops a set of test cases for all deliverable functionality for the current phase. She confirms that all test cases have been written according to the guidelines set in the QA test plan. The QA’er executes all test cases in the QA testing cycle, records test results and creates defect reports. Having a fresh pair of eyes to look at work is always useful, as it’s easy to get so caught up in what we’re doing that we’re blind to the mistakes we might have made. Having a QA’er come in and adjust work so that it meets universal standards is an easy way to ensure success, and limit risk.

    Total commitment to quality and customer satisfaction forms the key factors for any organisation to be successful. In order to ensure that all output meets high quality standards, it’s essential that the QA process is integral to all other business practices. In the rush to meet deadlines, it’s sometimes all too easy to forget just how important it is to take the time to reflect on everything you’re working on; ensuring consistently high quality throughout the QA process will mean great customer relationships in the long term!


    Who doesn’t like cartoons? Illustrations are designed to break up large amounts of text, introducing fun and laughter into the process. More than any other type of television, I can still remember the cartoons that brought me so much joy as a child.

    So it makes sense that illustration remains one of the major points of graphic design. Illustration itself pre-dates civilization – even cavemen were fans of drawing.

    According to the dual-code theory, hypothesised by Allan Paivio in 1971, pictures are twice as memorable as text as they mean that the lesson imprints twice on the memory – once as a visual image, and again as a verbal association. As my childhood, cartoon-based memories will testify, illustrations really are a fun and memorable way to learn. They serve a real purpose, rather than just adding aesthetic value to a course. They also have a universal appeal that will ensure your lessons outlast page after page of instruction. Illustrations can simplify complex learning concepts as complicated ideas can be made in to tree diagrams, and charts, meaning that they’re easier for learners to understand, and, crucially, remember the lessons they’ve learnt.

    There are so many ways to create illustration; I’ve used pen and pencils, as well as the more modern approaches involving digitally merging photos and drawings. I want to make sure that illustrations are so clear that the learner will be able to gain a large amount of knowledge in a short time.

    When you first looked at this blog post, I’m sure your eye was drawn to the illustrations rather than the text itself. Illustration grabs the learner’s attention in a way that text can’t, and illustration can help to build the story-building process. Another benefit of illustration is that facial expressions it might be difficult to show in real life characters can be achieved very easily in illustrations. We can depict a vast range of expressions, as you can see below:

    But how can drawings help to get learners engaged with an elearning course?

    Using illustration is also good news for business, as well as learners. It’s a cost-effective solution, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent on expensive photo-shoots. There are ways to ensure that illustrations reflect branding by stylising the drawings and changing features such as the colour shapes and line-thickness.

    When a client approaches me, there are a few steps I take to ensure that the end results will persuade any company of the value of illustration when it comes to eLearning:

    • The first thing I do is to go through the storyboard with the client’s brand guidelines and topics. It’s important to ensure that the style is in line with branding. In the past, I’ve worked with clients who have been reluctant to use illustration, fearing that it will mark a drastic break away from their brand. However, that’s really not the case. Mixing photography and illustration is a great way to ensure that illustration benefits, rather than damages, brand recognition
    • Next, I try to put myself in learner`s shoes and read the content. For illustrations to be effective, they must start with real scenarios and real people. Once I’m sure that my designs will be compliant with branding guidelines, I start to look at the illustrations from the learner’s point of view. Is the target learner a teenager, middle aged or older? The severity of the subject matter is also important to bear in mind when creating illustrations for an elearning course, as it will affect the types of illustration required


    Illustrations are one of the best ways to ensure that the lessons of your elearning course are straightforward and memorable. Including illustrations in elearning courses can be great for learners and brands alike.

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