Archive for the ‘Top tip’ Category

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.

    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.

    As teachers and other learning professionals will often tell you, imparting information to students is one thing, but to get them to remember and then apply it is a whole different ball game. So how do we achieve this holy grail of learning? It all comes down to the way information is retrieved and processed.

    The means of acquiring and processing information that the brain uses depend on how it is stimulated. This means that it’s important to recognise which brain mechanism is appropriate for the type of training you want to deliver. Here are some top tips for delivering a learning innovation that changes behaviour on a fast-acting, intuitive level:

    Top Tips:

    1) Make them fail: We’re not saying set impossible challenges that will demotivate your learners and cause them to lose confidence; this would be counter-productive. Instead, set a challenge appropriate to the learning objectives and ability of your learners. Science writer Annie Murphie Paul has observed that learners need to solve problems on their own in order to embed the learning. Learning through problem solving will also build the synaptic structures necessary to transfer learning from the procedural (or automated) response, to the intuitive/emotional response. By interacting directly with the learning activity, learners will be jolted out of passivity, into the emotionally engaged learners you want them to be. Which brings us to our next tip…

    2) Get emotional: The brain is incredibly efficient at filtering out extraneous information to focus on the job in hand. So good in fact, that we can often miss the most obvious cues. For a great example of this, check out this short video. So how do we take selective attention in to account when designing a learning intervention? The best way is to elicit an emotional response from your audience – tell a story, show a video, show photos. Dry facts won’t always resonate, but show a relevant image or story and it will embed.

    3) Induce the ‘fear factor’: You can even increase this effect by evoking a negative emotional experience. Use this power of error to increase learner focus and engagement in a way that isn’t self-critical by asking learners to spot the mistakes of others. This approach is often easier than self-correction. With these ideas in mind, ask learners to interact by clicking on mistakes when they see someone committing them. Instilling the ‘fear factor’ can be a positive learning technique, as learners are more likely to remember what they have learnt if they can associate their errors with the memory of someone else correcting them. The resulting reaction will have a far greater chance mental imprinting and thus embedding the elearning. The reason emotional learning gets cognitive attention is because it ignores the semantic, entering directly instead in to the episodic memory centres where more complex and interwoven brain structures reside. The strong mental representations formed here result in faster emotional responses, rather than slower, rational ones. The end result? Lasting behavioural change.

    4) Learn over time: Learning doesn’t happen overnight and neither does neural pathway building. The true measure of learning effectiveness is measured in the long term, not just the short. A student may pass an exam, but test them 2 or 3 months later and you’ll see they haven’t retained what they’ve learned. To have an impact, the neural pathways must become well trodden. On the biological level, this builds stronger links that will eventually override the previously ingrained and proceduralised responses that we’re trying to retrain. So when designing a learning intervention, plan for more frequent, smaller sessions – 20 minutes is ideal. Also, when planning the learning objectives for each of these sessions, bear in mind that the average human brain can only recall 5-6 independent items (this is why telephone numbers were initially designed to include only 6 digits).

    5) Make it relevant: This may seem obvious, but it can so easily be over-looked, especially when the commercial imperative is to provide as much information as possible. If the learning is not meaningful and directly applicable, the brain will not encode it. Therefore always relate the content to your audience. By connecting the learning to the real world, the learner will be more likely to form a bond, and the information will be more likely to stick. A great way to transfer the information from the elearning environment to the working environment is to take a blended approach. Create a programme that utilises the full breadth of training tools available. A classroom component, and on the job activities can be especially useful when combined with elearning.

    So there you have it; next time you’re planning your content for a course, consider the neuro-scientific basis for how we learn. By considering these tips in your instruction design, you are more likely to deliver training that is memorable and instils the desired behaviour change.

    More and more often, a website is part of the blend for a successful change campaign. The most obvious example is a learning programme which engages with a wide, public, audience. This will require a place to host elearning which also performs a few other functions: links to resources, news updates and contact details. A website is the logical solution.

    Websites are also invaluable for internal campaigns if you need to host a repository of resources and make it easily searchable. This is particularly important when users will be accessing learning resources on a bitesize basis, as and when they need them, rather than completing an hour of elearning. Most companies nowadays create portals on large and complex topics, like diversity, sustainability and leadership, for example.

    Above all, websites are great when you have a clear call to action that you want to build a community or movement around. An effective site allows you to gather pledges of support, and it also makes it easy to gather comments and drive social sharing.

    It’s more than likely that you’ll be involved in building a learning website of some kind in 2014. To help, the Saffron team has drawn on its hard-earned experience to put together 10 tips for building a learning website in a reasonable timeframe… and on a reasonable budget!

    1. Decide on the content first

    You need to understand more or less exactly what is going on the website before you start thinking about the technology or the design. If there’s lots of content to be created, get your production line in place before you even consider the build. Make sure to have a complete site map before starting the wireframes and the mock-ups. Otherwise, don’t expect anything meaningful from your graphic designer!

    2. What’s your call to action?

    To make sense of your content, you need to understand what the user is expected to do as a result of visiting your website. Do they need to access a resource, submit some details, or share with others? Understanding the potential call to actions will give you an understanding of the structure and scope of the site and its supporting technologies. The more potential actions, the more difficult the build will be.

    3. Use an open source CMS

    Just as Moodle provides provides a great starting point for an effective learning management system (and can be used ‘out of the box’ for hosting one or two courses), open source content management systems such as Drupal, Joomla and WordPress are the place to start for most website requirements. At Saffron we love WordPress! It’s extremely well-supported, and provides most of the admin functionality required ‘out-of-the-box’.

    4. Buy a theme

    For a project with a moderate budget, there really is no point in creating a bespoke theme when so many fantastic themes are available online. is a huge repository to try out. There are free options, but for less than $60 you’ll find yourself in possession of a powerful set of templates to perform most of the key functions for your website.  Get to know its features and how much can be customised from the front-end before you start producing mock-ups. Avoid custom development unless you absolutely have to!

    5. Make it mobile responsive

    If you want your website to reach the biggest audience, it’s inexcusable not to make it mobile optimised. Many WordPress themes are responsively designed straight out of the box, so it needn’t be a development challenge. But you also need to test your website with a smartphone. Does the flow make sense? Is your call to action clear?

    6. Don’t reinvent the wheel

    Once you know what you want the website to do, look for plugins or add-ons which are already available and suitable to your requirement! If you need to get people to sign-up to a mailing list, use a free service that generates the form for you, such as Mailchimp.

    7. Create a pixel perfect website

    For a polished and professional result, always apply the basic rules of typography to make the website look clean, professional, user friendly and easy to read. Make a clear distinction between the different areas of a page and follow the principles of Consistency, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Think usability before design, and you’ll be on the right path.

    8. Follow accessibility standards

    Make sure your website adheres to W3C accessibility guidelines, so it’s works available to screen-readers and to those with visual impairments. This includes including sensible alternative text for all images and allowing keyboard navigation. Following these standards will ensure a better user experience for everyone! Find out more here.

    9. Don’t design it for yourself, design it for the audience

    Your audience knows the websites they like and is familiar with how they work, so there’s no point in doing something that’s totally different. Reinventing the web is a risky business, so leave it to the professionals. Instead, ensure the design makes sense for a completely new visitor with very simple navigation. Every extra click required will lose your visitors, so avoid nested pages and menus.

    10. And finally, don’t forget to…

    • Turn off search engine indexing and restrict the website to your IP address whilst it’s in development, – you don’t want others to view your website before it’s complete.
    • Be aware of the latest technology on the market (e.g.: responsive, retina display) but also make sure it is compatible with old technology (Internet Explorer 6, 1024X768 resolution.
    • Make sure to have smart keywords in your metatags for the best Google results
    • Give meaningful names to pages and URLs to avoid confusion when you want to edit it after few months.

    Hopefully these tips have made your learning website idea less daunting and more like any other learning technology project. And, of course, many of the same tips apply to building a simple smartphone app. So what change are you hoping to achieve with a website? We’d love to hear about your next project.

    Happy Easter everyone!

    To coincide with Ragnarok, the predicted Viking apocalypse, on 22 February 2014 (along with Viking events up and down the country) Saffron Interactive asked leading members of the learning and development community to tell us what they thought (or hoped) would be wiped out in 2014.

    At Learning Technologies 2014, contributors including Don Taylor, John Curran, Sam Taylor and Jon Kennard answered our call and recorded short, ‘vox-pop’ videos to heap curses upon pet-hates and prophesy feasting at an L&D Valhalla… Want to contribute your own? Get in touch at



    This short post is an edited excerpt from the updated Spicy Learning Guide, an essential compendium of 101 tips to improve your learning strategy. We’ll be releasing the new Spicy Learning Guide at Learning Technologies 2013, so visit us at Stand 33 to collect your free copy!

    A learning management system isn’t just a place to host e-learning courses. It’s an essential part of the way learners experience your content. So here are our top five ideas to improve your learning management system.

    1. Make it a go-to destination

    Create genuine ‘what’s in it for me’ reasons for learners to login besides the standard ‘welcome message’ on your LMS. Include an internal blog and links to useful web-services like the holiday booking system and the company wiki.

    2. Allow users to upload content

    Many learners ‘store’ and share files related to learning (like presentations) via the email system. This isn’t ideal. How about allowing them to upload private files to share with others to the LMS itself? It’s another reason to return.

    3. Make it a game

    There are many ways to ‘gamify’ your LMS and reward learners for participation. One measure is to introduce a personal dashboard which tells learners how active they are and how that compares it to the average.

    4. Build in social feeds

    Help your learners move from courses to resources by including live feeds of online content-hubs like Twitter, Youtube and Google Reader. It’s very easy to include a widget or plugin which allows learners to search in Wikipedia from within the LMS.

    5. Make it mobile

    Mobile learning has arrived. e-Learning courses (not just resources) which work across all devices will be widespread very soon. This means your LMS needs to be mobile optimised. The newest versions of most common platforms are – make sure you aren’t left behind!

    Visit Saffron Interactive at Stand 33 to try out our new learning platforms, or request a demo.

    Does a good-looking course qualify as good quality? What about an ordinary course that brings about great behavioural change? I’m sure the argument can be extended to both sides. But my argument is to take the middle-path (very Buddha-like indeed, except I see no chance of Nirvana!).

    As instructional designers, our primary responsibility is to bring about behavioural change, thereby, hopefully, also providing sufficient return on investment for our clients. At the same time, most of us are also looking to maximize our profits. So we need to strike a perfect balance between a good product that does not exceed budgets and a product that gets the job done: in short, the minimum we can do to get the maximum.

    Where does that leave quality? Out in the open, in some cases, I’m afraid. If the client is happy, and we get our money, we seem to think of it as a job well done. Now, here comes the middle-path bit (let it not be said I didn’t warn you!)… that’s not enough! As conscientious professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure that we provide a learning experience that the learner can enjoy.

    Top Tips:

    • Quality is not about quantity: more interactions do not make for better quality
    • Visually stimulating products need to be backed up by well-thought out content chunks

    A patient walks into the doctor’s chamber and advises the doctor on what line of treatment he would prefer. Alternatively, if you prefer scenario two, the farm owner walks into the office of the investment banker and advises him where he should invest the firm’s money.

    If you think both are perfectly normal, then you may as well stop reading here – I’ve failed to make a point and there’s nothing more in this blog for you. However, if these two instances do strike you as a tad out of the ordinary, then I have a question for you: When it comes to instructional design, why is it that the clients often decide on what’s best?

    Some instructional designers are quite happy to let a course go the way it is provided the client is happy. What’s wrong with that? Well, I’ve seen screens with visuals that make no sense, interactive screens with over 50 clicks that do not make one iota of difference to the outcome of the course, screens with amounts of text that would make even the great Leo Tolstoy cringe, and sentences that are longer and even more convoluted than this one!

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