Training isn’t created in a vacuum. Many learning professionals spend hours reading about and looking for inspiration and the latest trends in design and development. There are a few key people in our industry who are interested in helping all of us move forward and push the limits of engaging and creative training. Award-winning eLearning developer Ashley Chiasson is one of those people.
On Train Like You Listen this week, we sit down with Ashley to talk about how she found success in her role. Ashley shares the story of how she got started, like many of us, in a circuitous way, how she approaches stake-holders with differing visions, and she takes some time to shares some great resources!
Tune in this week, and every week to learn more about what other professionals are doing to push our industry forward!
Transcript of the Conversation with Ashley Chiasson
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast of all things learning & development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn. I’m the Co-founder and CEO of a company called Endurance Learning. And today, we are joined by Ashley Chiasson, a senior e-learning developer, author, instructional designer, speaker, and all-around good person. Hi, Ashley. How are you doing?
Ashley Chiasson: I’m doing well. Thanks, Brian.
Brian Washburn: Thanks for joining us. Today, we’re going to be talking about engaging e-learning design. And for me, when I think of this and I think of my own career and biography, “I really prefer engaging e-learning modules”. How can you introduce yourself to the world or at least to our listeners?
Ashley Chiasson: So I’m Ashley Chiasson. And “I advocate for purposeful learning experiences.”
Brian Washburn: I like it. The idea of purposeful, I think, is really helpful, the idea of intentional. And we’re going to get into a little bit more of this idea of what is purposeful, what is good and not so good in just a second.
But before we even get there, I’m always curious how people got into e-learning design in the first place. Can you give us a little bit of your story, of your path to where you are now?
Getting Started in E-Learning Design
Ashley Chiasson: I really got my start in instructional design accidentally, like many other instructional designers. I was an unemployed undergraduate student, graduating from a linguistics and psychology background, applying to grad school with the hopes of, I guess, becoming a speech-language pathologist.
So I was really looking for a job after the school year ended. And one of my girlfriends was a former teacher. And she worked for a military contracting company as an instructional designer. I had never heard of that as a field or a thing.
So she kind of presented it as “we need some warm bodies. I think you’re kind of smart. I think you could do this.” So she got me an interview. And I went in, I got hired, I’m pretty sure, because they thought I spoke a bunch of different languages with my linguistics background, which was not true. But they didn’t ask, so I didn’t offer that.
And then, that’s really where I fell in love with instructional design and e-learning. We wore all the hats there. Also went to school while I was there to do my Master’s of Education and really started dipping my toes in the freelance world and trying to figure out what it really was that I wanted to do when I grew up. And so here I am.
Brian Washburn: And I think it’s really helpful for people to hear just the circuitous route that a lot of us took to get to where we are. You started out not as a little girl who said “I want to be an instructional designer when I grow up.” But you had other things that you were doing. And then you eventually arrived through a recommendation from a friend and through applying for a job.
It’s not that people who create really good stuff saw this as their be-all and end-all goal when they were younger. And I think a lot of us have fallen into this accidentally.
I know that you do a lot of speaking at conferences. You’ve won awards with the stuff that you’ve created. Can you talk to us a little bit, in your opinion, about what distinguishes between good or not-so-good e-learning design?
Good vs. Not-So-Good E-learning Design
Ashley Chiasson: So I think the biggest thing that distinguishes between good and not-so- good e-learning design is whether the e-learning has a clear purpose. As I said in my six-word intro “I advocate for purposeful learning experiences”. And I really think that a lot of people are guilty for adding interactions or flashy graphics or animations just for the sake of making it “engaging for learners.”
But I think the good e-learning is e-learning that’s designed very intentionally, that provides the learner with what they need to learn and enhances overall retention of the information that they’re being taught.
Brian Washburn: Can you talk a little bit more about that? So you mentioned “purposeful”. You mentioned the intent behind making sure that you’re getting the learners what they need. How do you actually get there?
How Do You Create Purposeful E-Learning?
Ashley Chiasson: So I think the key to creating purposeful e-learning is really starting with the learning objectives. I know there’s a lot of people that are going to roll their eyes at me and “say, no, learning objectives don’t need to exist.” But regardless of how you get there, whether it’s kind of more of a backward design approach or whether you’re starting out with, “OK, here are my performance objectives, here are my learning objectives”, I think it’s really important to know what those objectives are. Because you’re not going to be able to create any type of learning resource without knowing what the end goal is.
So starting there and then breaking things down into the palatable chunks that will allow the learner to retain the content that they’re being presented with in a meaningful way, that allows them to achieve those learning objectives.
Brian Washburn: I’m kind of curious now, listening to your process, can you give us an example of one of your favorite projects or one of the coolest projects you’ve ever worked on, that’s really gotten the learners to where they needed to go?
An Example of Successful E-Learning Design
Ashley Chiasson: So I think that there’s a really good example of a course that I developed for Algonquin College for group counseling. And the issue that they were experiencing was that there were a lot of remote learners. It wasn’t really feasible for their learners to get to site visits. It was, like I said, for group counseling.
So they needed this practical component. But it wasn’t the most accessible solution to be able to drive four hours, for example, to get to a site visit to get that practical experience.
So what we did was we, kind of, crafted a scenario-based e-learning course. We did this by allowing the user to watch videos, a video of a group counseling session, and then review the case studies that they would then have to identify, like “OK, well, what did you observe within this counseling setting?” Because that’s essentially what they would have been doing face to face.
And we found that those users were really having an equitable experience for a course that, I think initially, the stakeholders probably didn’t know how this format was going to shake out.
And so it was really nice to see that we were able to create something that achieved what the learning objectives and goals were. So it was nice that we were able to prove to the funder that yes, actually, they did meet these learning objectives and at the end of the course, because it wasn’t just all about this e-learning. The learner still had to do some more high stakes type activities where they were going to be assessed more formally, these scenarios were able to really support that learning. And it was proven in their assessment results from the other assessments. And we really were able to achieve the learning outcomes that were defined.
Designing E-Learning When In-Person Is Not Possible
Brian Washburn: And I love that example, because there’s a lot of people that say, “I get that there’s a time and place for things that are online, that are digital. But sometimes you just have to be in person. You have to do it. You have to observe it.”
And while I think that can be true, I think that there are scenarios in which you can’t be in person or it’s not feasible or cost-effective or other things like that. And so it’s really important to be creative, to try to give a parallel experience whereas a learner, you’re not losing something. But you’re still able to have that similar experience.
I love, not only did you use video and some scenario-based stuff, but you have evidence that said “you know what? It was a pretty equitable experience compared to people who did it.”
Ashley Chiasson: Absolutely. And I mean, I did spend some time working at a local university a while back. And I went into this university setting with big dreams of, “oh, man. This is a university. They’re very progressive in terms of online learning. And surely, I’ll be able to put so many more courses online, if I could only get my foot in the door there.”
And then what I realized when I started working at that university was that the online courses were becoming more bountiful. It was more the faculty and the collective agreements that were stopping course development or preventing it or slowing it down.
I’m kind of reflecting on that now in these COVID-19 times, where a lot of institutions are busy getting courses online as fast as humanly possible because of the need. And it always makes me think, “if they just would have listened to me. I was trying to help so many years ago.” And now, we’ve got everybody foisting themselves into that world with or without experience.
And I think it’s great. Because I really do think that a lot of institutions are going to see that “OK, well yeah, I have more of a hands-on type course that I’m developing.” So clearly, that lends itself better to face to face instruction.
And I think what’s going to happen is that sure, we’ll see a slew of courses that maybe face to face is the better medium. But I think we’re going to see a big conversion of faculty members who once thought that online was not going to be the best way to teach their course. And I think we’re going to see a shift in that perspective.
Advice During the Current Shift to E-Learning
Brian Washburn: And so, let’s talk about that just briefly. Because with people who are wanting to shift to online or need to shift to online, sometimes there is still the traditional thinking that we need to have all of the words on the screen, all of the same words and voice over. Do you have any advice for somebody that’s working with a client or a stakeholder or somebody within their own organization who’s really requesting that, you know, we need to bring it online, but we need to have all the words both onscreen and in voiceover?
Ashley Chiasson: At the end of the day, the clients or stakeholders or faculty member or whoever is asking you to develop e-learning is the client, at the end of the day. So I think you can present your reasoning in a very persuasive format. And that’s what I would recommend is, come at it from a perspective of, “OK, well, I’m going to present the pedagogical reasoning why this might not be the best option.”
You could go at it from an accessibility standpoint. You could come at it from a “OK, well, we could do this, this, or this”, and present options. And see if maybe the stakeholder will take the bait of one of the other options. But at the end of the day, all you can do is really educate the stakeholder and hope you sway them to what you know and feel is the right decision.
But if at the end of the day, they go with their gut and they want all of the text on the screen and all of the audio or all of the text on screen and then duplication of that text in audio, they’re the ones that are really paying the bills. So sometimes, you just have to concede.
But I think that even if you’re the lowest rung on the totem pole, if you know that from an educational perspective, there’s a good reason why they maybe should be doing things different, you definitely have the ability to step up and speak up and advocate for that reason. Whether or not it gets picked up, that’s another thing.
Brian Washburn: I love that response. Because at the end of the day, they are the people who pay the bills. They’re the people who get to make the decisions. And that doesn’t mean that as an instructional designer, you need to be an order taker all the time. You can offer some options. You can show it’s possible.
And then, if the decision, after being educated a little bit is still “no, I want all the words on the screen in the voiceover”, that may be the way that you need to go. But at least you’ve shown what’s possible.
Get to Know Ashley Chiasson
Brian Washburn: Ashley, we’re going to wrap up here with just a quick speed round here, so people get to know you a little bit better. And again, I know that you speak at a lot of conferences. I’ve seen you speak. What is your go-to meal before you deliver a training?
Ashley Chiasson: Always coffee, maybe yogurt, and definitely green juice.
Brian Washburn: What happens if you can’t find the green juice?
Ashley Chiasson: If I can’t find the green juice, I’ll settle for something else. But it’s almost exclusively coffee and green juice. But I will try and stick something more solid in my stomach as well.
Brian Washburn: Is there a book or a blog or a podcast that people who are interested in e-learning should be reading right now?
Ashley Chiasson: I could not go a single day without my Blue Yeti Mic.
Brian Washburn: What do you use that for? Is that for voiceover? Or what do you use it for?
Ashley Chiasson: So I use the Blue Yeti predominantly for meetings and any type of screen casting or audio recording that I have to do.
And the blue, I believe it’s the Snowflake, which is more of like a portable pocket version, is also fantastic if people are looking for something that’s more portable.
Brian Washburn: Nice. And before we wrap up, is there anything that you want people to be paying attention to right now?
Ashley Chiasson: AshleyChiasson.com. That’s my personal website. I blog there. I do conference recaps when conferences are happening. And I also have a whole section of storyline video tutorials. So if you’re in the market for learning storyline, you can go and get, I think there’s over 100 free video tutorials there.
I also have sproutelearning.com, which has a free mini course. I wouldn’t really call it a course, but it’s kind of a curation of the blog post I’ve done on building your e-learning portfolio. Because I think everyone in e-learning should have a portfolio.
Brian Washburn: A wealth of knowledge and resources and super friendly to boot. Ashley, thank you so much for joining us today. And thank you, everyone, for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which is an Endurance Learning production.
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Until next week, happy training and we’ll talk to you soon.
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