Update: O*NET Participation

By: Marcia Shannon

In April, 2018, we shared a request from the Research Triangle Institute. They were seeking experts to help them update the occupation description for Instructional Designers and Technologists in the US Department of Labor’s O*NET Data Collection Program.

If chosen to participate, you would have been contacted by a Research Triangle Institute Business Liaison beginning the week of February 21, 2019. You may or may not have been contacted due to random sampling.

Your participation will contribute to a key resource that provides our nation’s citizens with continuously updated occupational information.

Holistic vs. Atomistic Design of Learning: two types of learning design

By: Mark Philp

Holistic vs. Atomistic Design of Learning

How detailed does a document need to be to get the best result for the end user? Can the user skim the document and understand the concepts effectively enough? Or does the training require a more in-depth understanding? There are two schools of thought on document design regarding these questions: holistic and atomistic. Holistic learning design is creating a document that examines a whole idea by looking at the sum of all parts rather than the individual details. Atomistic design, by contrast, looks at an issue on a granular level by examining every element in detail.

Both methods can be useful when explaining a new topic to someone. However, the context surrounding how the information is delivered and interpreted differs significantly.

The Water Cycle: Atomistically and Holistically

We will use the example of the water cycle to compare the differences between a holistic and an atomistic approach.

Level of Detail

First, a training document must assess the level of detail needed in the document by understanding the needs of the end user. Who is going to use this information? Is it a training document for a grade 12 science instructor, or is it a pamphlet given out to boy scouts who are attempting to get their science badge? The information may be the same in both cases, but how the information should be delivered differs significantly. Both parties have very different levels of comprehension, so that must be addressed in the document design. A teacher must be able to field questions regarding this topic, so a deeper understanding of all the items must be included to ensure there are no gaps in the transmission of information. On the other side, when designing a document for a 10-year-old who will most likely use it outside and look at it for a total of three minutes, the document must show the big picture, be easy to read and, most importantly, be accessible to that particular user.


Secondly, context is important. We briefly brushed on that in the previous paragraph by saying a 10-year-old boy scout may read their document outside. This is an important part of document design. Where will the intended user access the information and under what circumstances will they absorb the information? A teacher will most likely access the document while sitting down at a desk and with proper lighting. The document will most likely be a part of a larger document in a science curriculum. The audience reading the document will already have a background of knowledge regarding the topic. On the other hand, the document for the boy scout will most likely be read outside, perhaps in low light conditions. Most likely, the boy scout will have a very limited background knowledge of the subject. Maybe he will read the document while it’s raining. Does the document need to fit in the user's pocket? These are all items to consider when designing the material because designing for context will allow the documents to be successfully utilized.


Lastly, what is the desired outcome of the document? The technical communicator should ask a few questions:

  • What is the goal of the training?
  • What is the importance of it?
  • How accurately does the information need to be delivered?

In the case of the science teacher, the desired outcome is to facilitate a lesson for grade 12 science students on the water cycle and to comprehensively examine each stage. The goal is for the students to pass their science test and to have a better understanding of the material. The information needs to be delivered accurately for it’s a senior level high school course. As for the boy scout, the desired outcome is to understand the fundamentals of the water cycle. The goal is for the scout to show he has a basic understanding so that he can receive a badge. The knowledge is most likely tested in a verbal interview by a scout leader to assess their understanding of the basic concepts, so the level of accuracy needed will be much less.

Even these simplified situations demonstrate how both of these learning designs have a purpose and can be applied.
Technical writers should ask themselves a series of simple questions, such as:

  • Who is the end user?
  • What does the end user need to know?
  • In what setting will the end user be reading the document?
  • How should it be delivered?
  • What is the goal of the information?
  • How accurately does the information need to be delivered?

By asking these simple questions, one can determine the granularity of the information and decide whether they should move forward with either a holistically or atomistically designed document.

About the author

Mark Philp is a student in the Technical Communications program at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto, Canada. He has an undergrad degree in Urban Planning from the University of Waterloo. Mark enjoys writing, pub trivia, Chinese food, break dancing, baseball, home improvement projects, and Christmas.

Effective Use of Screen Real Estate in E-Learning

By Vivian Luu

Screen real estate refers to the amount of space that is available on a screen. In e-learning, it is not the available space on the computer screen that concerns us—it is the space on the slides we design and use to teach the material that we find to be most important. Creating e-learning slides, in programs such as PowerPoint or Captivate, may be simple and they may look aesthetically pleasing, but it is our effective use of space on the slides that give value to the user.
This article covers six principles you should consider in order to use screen real estate effectively.

Use white space, but not too much

White space can help a page look elegant and clean. Also known as negative space, white space is the part of the page we leave blank, such as the margins and the space between paragraphs. Used properly, white space can unclutter a page without it looking sparse. It also applies to e-learning slides. We want to teach the users everything we can, but we do not want to overwhelm them by putting too much information on one slide.

Each e-learning slide should cover only one topic. In doing so, we will not only control the white space on the slides, but also limit how much information we share at one time. We tend to use white space as borders to separate topics; these very paragraphs that you are currently reading are separated from one another using white space to help you see where one paragraph ends and where another one starts. If we focus on having only one idea per slide, we can decrease the use of white space typically reserved for separating topics. Then, you will only have to worry about line spacing, text, images, and navigation buttons.

Narrow the margins

Unlike a page that might be printed, e-learning slides are mostly viewed on a device and will not encounter the problem of information being cut off by the printer due to narrow margins. You can narrow the margins and use the few extra pixels to add more to the slides. It is a way to effectively use real estate and deliver a positive user experience.

Use graphics and figures carefully

In technical writing, graphics are meant to reinforce the text. Because of the limited real estate on e-learning slides, graphics should be small and used only to help the user understand the information. Instead of placing graphics in the middle of the slide and forcing the text to the margins, try putting the graphic in a corner or giving it its own slide after one that explains the graphic.

Use audio functions

Unlike a textbook, e-learning can use audio to enhance learning. Using the audio function to supply voice over on the slides gives the users a more personal e-learning experience. Not only will this save space for more information, but it will also be more accessible.

Place closed captioning strategically

We must also think of users who use closed captioning. Despite having limited screen real estate, e-learning slides can have closed captioning and still use space effectively. Put the closed captioning on the bottom of the screen where everyone is used to seeing it. It can also go into the narrowed margins of the slide. When the closed captioning has a solid background color, it is immediately differentiated from the slide’s main text without using up more real estate.

Use a responsive e-learning design

Different devices have different amounts of screen real estate, so e-learning designs will have to change with each type of device (for example: phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop). This is where responsive e-learning design comes in. With responsive e-learning, the slides adjust so that users have an optimal learning experience no matter what device they use.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind for devices of varying sizes and input methods:

Smart phones

  • Avoid making the user scroll or zoom in, as it would be inconvenient.
  • Use as few photos as possible, or incorporate them into the background at low opacity.
  • Replace “next” buttons with the option to tap on the screen to proceed; it will save space.
  • Use sans-serif fonts for easy reading—additionally, the size of a sans-serif font can be reduced and still maintain legibility.


  • Follow most of the considerations listed for smart phones.
  • Make the font size larger, as tablets have more real estate than smart phones.
  • Spread out the information to fill up some of the extra white space tablets have.

Laptops and desktops

  • Use arrow keys and clicks to advance through the e-learning slides, as a keyboard and mouse almost always accompany a laptop or desktop.
  • Use a larger font size to balance the available real estate on the screen.
  • Make graphics larger than they would be on a smart phone or tablet, but ensure that they reinforce the text.

Conclusion: Think like a user

To use screen real estate effectively in e-learning, we must think like a user. What do they want to see on the screen? How will they interpret the information? What aids do we anticipate them needing for a positive learning experience? How much is too much information? We must strike a balance with white space, text, and images if we are to convey the right amount of information in the best possible way. As communicators, it is our responsibility to effectively use real estate in e-learning so that the learning experience will be valuable to the users.

About the author

Vivian is a technical communication student at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto, Canada. She is currently on a work placement as a technical writer at the IESO. Her interests in writing and the environment encouraged her to pursue an undergraduate degree in Professional Writing with a minor in Environmental Studies from York University.

Personalized Learning and Engagement: Why Flipped Classrooms are the Future of Education

By: Jessica Rand

While the concept of the flipped classroom, and the very name itself, may seem backwards, in reality it is an innovative way of offering students and educators a more engaging, personalized learning experience. With the rapid growth of online and blended learning, and the proliferation of technology devices, educators have more opportunities than ever to provide personalized, meaningful learning experiences to their students. Using a flipped classroom model is one of the most effective strategies for achieving this.

What is a flipped classroom?

One of the biggest challenges that educators face is trying to meet curriculum or course outcomes within a short time period. As a result, many courses adopt a lecture format to instill as much knowledge as possible within the calendar constraints. While the majority of educators understand the benefits of collaboration and problem solving, they struggle to find the time. The flipped classroom model addresses this challenge by “flipping” the way courses are taught.

Flipped classrooms are not an entirely new practice. Many people have experienced some aspects of the flipped classroom model when their professors have asked them to pre-read course materials or watch a video online before coming to class. Anthony Bates explains that constructivist theories of education, argue that learners must construct personal meaning through experience and reflection. Flipped classrooms can be so much more than having students pre-read a chapter before attending a lecture. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour reports that over 20 years ago Alison King argued that educators should move from a “sage on the stage” way of teaching to being a “guide on the side”. She argued that many instructors try to impart the knowledge they have by lecturing to a room of students and would be more effective by guiding students through exploration of content. The goal of exploration and collaboration is at the center of flipped classrooms.

An instructor engaging in a flipped classroom will provide students with a means of learning course content outside of class time, followed by collaboration and learning activities in the class. For example, a student may learn course content for a science class by watching a short video and playing a relevant online educational game before each class. When the student comes to the following class, he is already familiar with the content and is able to engage in more meaningful learning through discussion, collaboration and experiential learning.

Benefits of flipping a classroom

Individual student needs are addressed more effectively in flipped classrooms. Content can be made available in different medium. For example, students who struggle with reading can listen to informational podcasts or watch videos. Rather than educators spending class time teaching content, they are able to meet with individual students, facilitate learning stations and engage in hands-on experiences with students. Students are also able to access content material at a time and place that is convenient to them. This allows students to learn in a way that meets their needs. Student autonomy over learning is critical, especially for struggling students. Learners that take ownership of their learning are more likely to engage in personalized learning.

Engagement is another advantage of flipped classrooms. Many students become bored or disengaged in traditional class settings. This occurs for two reasons. First, many students find lecture-style teaching dull and uninteresting. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour report that a student’s attention declines after just ten minutes of class lecture and that only about 20 percent of material is retained. Second, students who require accommodations or extensions will become disengaged as content material is presented in a way that is either too difficult or too easy for them. Flipped classroom educators have the opportunity to provide content in a more varied, personalized manner and provide truly meaningful, engaging experiences in the classroom.

The role of technology

As you can imagine, technology plays a vital role in flipped classrooms. An effective flipped classroom does not simply ask students to read chapters of a textbook prior to class and then expect them to have learned the content. Flipped classrooms use technology as a tool for facilitating and improving learning experiences. Great examples of technology being used effectively in flipped classrooms are podcasts, Smartboards, voice recorders, video logs, blogs, document cameras, robotics, and tablets.

Technology provides many opportunities to students learning in a flipped classroom, and the devices and programs available are becoming more exciting every day. There are, however, many terrific ways to offer students a flipped classroom learning experience without obtaining a Computer Science degree. Educators should use technology that they are familiar with and slowly expand their expertise to include more devices and programs that they feel would benefit their students.

Many post-secondary institutions are choosing to provide flipped classroom learning experiences to their students. The proven benefits to student engagement and personalization of learning indicate that students are seeing more success with this style of teaching. Educators from the University of Hong Kong provide several strategies for teachers inspired to start their own flipped classrooms. They recommend that instructors take the process one step at a time and keep technology simple (especially in the beginning), avoid providing too much information to students at once, find ways to engage students with material and reflect on practices to make changes as needed.

It is an exciting time to be in the education system. The increase of technology devices and programs has changed the way we learn and teach. As educators, we can harness the strengths of emerging technologies and practices such as the flipped classroom to engage each of our students like never before.

About the author

Jessica Rand teaches part-time in beautiful Prince George, British Columbia where her three sons keep her busy. She is currently working on an Online Learning and Teaching Diploma from Vancouver Island University and says that her hope as an educator is to use technology to engage students in their own learning journeys. When not teaching, Jessica spends time with her husband and boys, and also loves to read, run, volunteer and spend time with friends.

Designing and Running Engaging Activities for Seniors

by Rachel Musicante

One of the hardest parts of my job as an activities director at five assisted living facilities is coming up with activities that appeal to people of varying ages, cognitive abilities, and interests in the space of an hour. Each week, I visit each facility twice, and engage small groups of 4 to 12 residents in activities such as bingo, trivia, Scrabble, and card games. I would like to share with you some of the fun and creative ways that I have risen to this challenge in the three-plus years I have been an activities director at my current workplace.

One of the best ways to get all participants involved is to give each person a voice. This can be effectively accomplished through group discussions. I use online and print resources to identify topics that are likely to catch people’s interest, such as current events (especially slightly controversial ones), unusual court cases, and philosophical dilemmas. I read the question to the group, then give everyone a chance to express his or her view. Responses can range from interesting insights to off-topic musings. For one particular resident, any view he expresses ultimately meanders back to comments about beautiful women or money. No matter. The point for me is for each person to have a chance to contribute something positive to the atmosphere, to have a voice.

Another fun way I reach residents is through music. Even residents who are non-verbal or suffering from dementia respond to music, especially when it accompanies a lively ball game that really wakes people up and primes them to respond.

For a younger and more cognitively advanced group, a special version of “Name That Tune” was a great success. I wanted to pick artists that would be familiar to the members of this particular group and that would call to mind pleasant associations. I chose several singers who had participated in Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s “We Are the World” and selected songs that showcased each performer’s style. I played each song to the group and asked the participants to name the song’s title and performer. One particular participant was skilled at quickly picking up the name of the song and its singer, although all of the participants enjoyed the music and recognized at least some of the songs. After playing the individual songs, I asked the residents if they could figure out what all of the singers had in common. They got the answer, which was really gratifying. The activity was fresh and fun, and the investment of effort multiplied the satisfaction of seeing it go over well.

While I previously stated that reaching people of widely varying abilities is the most difficult part of my job, I’ve also come to appreciate that it is simultaneously the most rewarding part. My mother’s oft-stated words rings true here: “What you put in is what you get out.” The investment of effort into any endeavor makes it meaningful and therefore rewarding, and I’ve definitely found this to be true with this line of work. Once the creative juices flow, imaginative approaches that support different learning styles allow me to enthusiastically develop and implement great programs. These energizing activities are fun for the residents as participants, and they are equally rewarding for me to deliver. The joy of hitting on the right combination of preparation, consideration, and energy is the most satisfying part of being an activities director.