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Addressing Challenges and Getting Help

How do you move forward when a project challenges you and you don’t see a clear path? On the podcast this week, Brian sits down with his colleague and Director of Instructional Design at Endurance Learning, Heather Snyder, to dig into this topic. During this chat, they discuss some challenges they encounter during the training development process and how they can be addressed. Heather and Brian talk about a few recent projects and how they made them successful, some resources they use when they are stuck, and why and how to ask for help.  

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Heather Snyder

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast about all things learning & development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, the Co-Founder of Endurance Learning. And I am here today with Heather Snyder, who is my colleague, the Director of Instructional Design at Endurance Learning. Hello, Heather.

Heather Snyder:  Hi, Brian. Nice to be here.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn:  It’s fun to have you here. You know the format. If you had to introduce yourself in six words, how would you do that?

Heather Snyder: For today, I would say “Inspiration can be difficult to find.”

Brian Washburn: Which is perfect, because today’s topic is really around how we address challenging situations in training that we’re designing. For me, my own six-word autobiography today is “sometimes, it’s nice to have help.”

Now, along those lines, Heather, I’d love to know, what are you working on right now? And if you could have any sort of help with it, what would it be?

Seeking Inspiration During E-Learning Development

Heather Snyder:  My primary role here at Endurance Learning is designing training, specifically e-learning. I’m an instructional designer, and I often look for help with inspiration on engaging interactions and engaging scenarios during those courses. E-learning is such a limited format that sometimes inspiration can be hard to find when developing that.

It comes up specifically when I’m really close to content about a product or a process or a technology. I’ll just get too far in the weeds. And I need some help seeing things from the perspective of the learner. The process of even formulating a question sometimes is really helpful for me.

And I’ll throw that question at our team a lot of times. For example, I might ask the team, “if you were in the situation and you’re skeptical about the technology or the process, what kinds of questions would you ask?” And even forcing myself to formulate that question really can help me.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. So sometimes, it’s just nice to have somebody who knows nothing about it.

Heather Snyder: Yes.

Brian Washburn: I know that I’ve been on the opposite side. I’ve been on the receiving side of some of your questions because a lot of times, I know nothing about the project. And so I can come in with a fresh set of eyes.

Do you have an example actually off the top of your head of a time when you did ask for help? And what kind of help did you get? How did it turn out?

Finding Success in the Creative Process

Heather Snyder: Yeah, I have a couple of examples. I worked on a training recently where we needed to demonstrate the benefits of a tool that actually saves people time. And I struggled to come up with an interaction that met that objective.

I threw it at our team, and we started toying around with the idea of that old Macintosh game, “Oregon Trail”, which was really cool and didn’t quite fit the length and the build-time of those specific interactions.

Brian Washburn: For those who may not remember playing Oregon Trail back in school, it was kind of a text-based story where you were an explorer that had to go from the East Coast. 

And you had to supply yourself. You had to budget. You had to buy supplies and a vehicle and make your way in your ox and cart across country without dying of dysentery or when you had to try to ford rivers without having your livestock washed away and things like that. So we were trying to bring that concept into the game.

Heather Snyder: Right. And when we really pulled it apart, we started to see that the elements we were looking for in that game was really that task list, that you had to accomplish something by the end of “Oregon Trail” to be successful. So we whittled it down to just that task list, which worked really well because we were trying to demonstrate how it saved time.

So as we built this task list, our learners had to figure out how to safely accomplish all these tasks without the tool. And we threw them curveballs. Get grandma her life-saving medicine. Or it takes you 30 minutes to drive here if you drive the speed limit, things like that that just could not be removed from the list. And so they had to evaluate without the tool and then with the tool.

And it really wound up being a brilliant interaction. The help and the inspiration really came from brainstorming the concept and starting big and then poking holes in it and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work and then having a lot of fun with the ideas. The creative process spends a lot of time throwing things at walls and seeing what sticks.

Balancing Creativity and Practicality

Heather Snyder: The other side of things for that is sometimes I get too excited about creativity. And I go too far, and things just don’t work. So another thing I try to do– and I don’t always do it– is I like to sit down and review my scenarios with a colleague.

I recently developed a temperature gauge that I was super excited about. Then I showed it to a colleague, and he started poking holes in it. And I realized that it actually made the content more confusing, instead of less confusing. It’s good to have people help you hit that balance between creativity and practicality.

We wound up with a drag-and-drop, like a labeling drag-and-drop. And I was really frustrated at first, because I was like, that’s going to be too boring. And then as we built it out, because we still approached it with a creative process, it turned out to be a great interaction.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And so I really like what you had to say there, in terms of sometimes we come up with the coolest, most original idea, something that we just learned how to do in Storyline or something like that. And then we actually put it in front of somebody else. And they’re like, “that’s cool, but it doesn’t hit the objective”…which everything goes back to the learning objectives.

And so sometimes, we can. We can get really off on a tangent. And it’s really helpful to have that outside person come in and bring us back. Now, what happens when you don’t have anyone else to bounce ideas around with?

Additional Resources When Developing E-Learning Alone

Heather Snyder:  It can be difficult. We can hit capacity, where people are just not able to help you. Or you don’t feel comfortable asking. Or maybe you just don’t want to start off by asking. Like anyone else, I will turn to the old search engine and look some things up.

But I do have some tried and true places that I look. The Train Like a Champion blog really has a lot of things in there. And even though I’ve contributed to that, I didn’t write all of that. And I don’t remember everything in there. So I will dig through Train Like a Champion and try to find things.

Another great resource is the E-Learning Heroes. You see what people– and that’s brought to us by Articulate, and it’s free. And you see where people go through and are given challenges. And they take those challenges, like a basic drag-and-drop or a basic slider.

And you can see what they’re doing with that. It’s very inspiring to find things in those places. Just getting onto any blog and finding out what other people are doing can be really inspirational.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. It’s funny that you mentioned going to the Train Like a Champion blog. You yourself, who writes things, goes back there. I do the same.

And there are times when I’ll go back to the blog, and I’ll look something up. I’m like, “oh, that was really smart of what Heather wrote”. And then I look at it and realize, oh, wait. I wrote that. I wrote that three years ago and totally forgot about it. So it is.

And so we’re tooting our own horns with the Train Like a Champion blog. But I think that the question was, what do you do when you don’t have anyone else to bounce ideas around with? And sometimes, going back and looking at our own work from a year or two ago, some projects that we have long since forgotten because we’ve moved on, can also be a good source of inspiration.

Heather Snyder: Absolutely.

Brian Washburn: Now, one other thing that you mentioned is that a lot of times, you’re hesitant, at least in the beginning, to ask for help. I’m kind of curious with this point here. What keeps you from asking for help?

The Challenges of Seeking Help and Collaboration

Heather Snyder: Yeah. As I mentioned, when people are at capacity, I am nervous to ask them. Or if it’s something they know nothing about, I don’t necessarily feel like I need to be tasking them with asking those questions or if they’re not on that project. It’s difficult to reach out and ask for help. It really is.

And I realize that all of these interactions should just live in our heads as instructional designers. But we’re not machines. And taking a step back and realizing how long you are spending on doing something yourself when you could quickly ask someone a question– when I’m outside of a project, that’s not hard to see. It really isn’t.

But when I’m in the project, I don’t always want to task people with my responsibility. It’s my job. It’s what I was hired to do. Really taking your ego out of that and taking some of the time into perspective and moving past that and actually asking those questions really are helpful.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I don’t know very many instructional designers who don’t have at least some element of the hero complex. “This is what I was hired to do. What will my employer think of me if I’m always going around and asking other people for help and to bounce ideas around?”

And then when I think of the times that I’ve actually been asked for help by somebody else who’s looking just for whether it’s a five-minute brainstorm session or a 30-minute formal meeting, I love sitting in on that. It helps to break up my day, it gets me out of what I’m doing, and it makes me feel helpful to come up with some new or different ideas.

Then it’s always fun, actually, later to see the ideas actually in some way, shape, or form sometimes come to life through what the final product is. So it’s definitely one of those things where I think it’s harder to ask for help than to be asked, because, again, when I’m asked for help, I love to jump in.

Heather Snyder: Me, too.

Quickly Converting to Virtual Instructor-Led Training 

Brian Washburn: One last question here before we wrap up is, what are you looking forward to? What’s on the horizon for you, for Endurance Learning?

 Heather Snyder: Lots of things are on the horizon. We have a lot of client work all the time, which is very exciting. One of the things I am talking to at least friends and people in my circle the most about is the Soapbox capability that’s going to be added in about a month-ish for virtual instructor-led training to host webinars.

I have so many friends that have been thrust into this new work environment. And they’re not really sure how to facilitate these online meetings. They’re really struggling with it. And they’re so frustrated that they’re not actually getting their work done at full capacity. And I even had a friend recently tell me she’s at about 25% of her capacity.

I think that having a tool like Soapbox helped them generate trainings. While maybe they were fantastic in the classroom and they didn’t really need any assistance with what they were doing in the classroom, that needs to be converted quickly to virtual instructor-led training. And I’m really excited to see Soapbox help people out with that.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, absolutely. So Soapbox is our tool that helps people put together presentations. Just by entering a few different inputs or variables about their presentation, it’ll spit out a lesson plan that includes activities. And right now, it does it for in-person. So in about a month, we’re hoping that we can roll out a version that will generate activities for people who are delivering virtual trainings.

As you mentioned, people are working at maybe 50% capacity, where they have one eye on their work computer and one eye on their child who’s doing homeschooling or whatever it is. So if we’re able to take a little bit of that burden off and allow people to generate a bunch of interactive activities for virtual, I think that’ll be a fun thing to see people pick that up.

Heather Snyder: Yeah, I can’t wait.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. So well, Heather, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts around how to just generate some ideas when you get stuck when you’re developing a session.

Thank you, everyone, for listening to this week’s edition of Train Like You Listen. You can always subscribe if you don’t want to miss any of these podcasts on Spotify, on iHeartRadio, on iTunes, or any place where you get your podcasts. Until next time, have a great week and happy training.


This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at


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