STC IDL SIG Student Outreach Article-Writing Competition

The STC’s Instructional Design & Learning Special Interest Group (SIG) is pleased and proud to announce that the judges in the Student Outreach article-writing competition selected 2 articles for publication in this quarter’s issue of IDeaL: Design for Learning, the SIG’s award-winning newsletter. Both articles are very readable and informative.

Here are the two winners, with links to their articles:

Kylie is a Virginia Tech junior studying professional and technical writing and biology. Currently, she works as a research assistant for a study focused on the role of service-learning in creating user documentation. After graduation, Kylie plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health and write within the medical industry. Her article,  The Importance of Needs Assessments in Global Technical Communication, relates the story of a project targeting young women in Nepal. She outlines how she assessed the needs of her target audience for a user documentation prototype.

Catherine is completing her Master’s in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning at Boise State University, where she earned her Workplace Instructional Design e-Learning Certification. She holds an ATD Certified Professional in Learning and Performance. Catherine graduated from Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. She worked in various adult workplace learning roles for over 25 years, including IT, Project Management and Human Resources.

Her article, ID Lessons from TV’s Greatest Teachers, is about the original distance educators—from Reading Rainbow, the Joy of Painting, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. She draws excellent strategies from her examples and presents tips for incorporating their successful techniques into your lesson planning.

Catherine will be presenting an IDL webinar on 4 TV personalities on Thursday, May 27. Follow STCIDLSIG on Facebook to learn more about our educational opportunities, which are always free for students. This event will be posted on Eventbrite once details are complete.

About the Student Outreach Article-Writing Competition

The IDL SIG invites undergraduate- and graduate-level students to submit an article related to instructional design for publication in our quarterly newsletter, IDeaL: Design for Learning. To learn more, click here.

FEATURED ARTICLE: The Original Remote Instructors: ID Lessons from TV’s Greatest Teachers

By Catherine Wecksell

With an increasing demand for online learning, instructional designers are adapting existing online instruction programs to create remote learning. TV legends like Fred Rogers, LeVar Burton, and Bob Ross provided effective distance learning before it became widespread. What techniques do these three TV hosts offer instructional designers for effective workplace learning today?

Fred Rogers was more present virtually than most people manage to be in person. 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran from 1968 to 2001, one of the longest-running children’s PBS series. Mr. Rogers spoke directly to children, validating their feelings and helping them name, face, and understand their emotions. Many have applied his methods to adult contexts such as leadership, HR, and pedagogy. 

Mr. Rogers engaged children with open-ended questions, asking them about their experiences and urging them to draw upon prior knowledge. He presented models and examples in "The Land of Make Believe,” encouraging children to connect these to their own experiences. Jack Mezirow established transformative learning theory in 1978, with the concept that the learner’s critical self-reflection can transform the learner’s perspective (Mezirow, 2009). Mezirow grounded his concept in the foundational theory of constructivismbased on the idea that people actively create their knowledge and understanding. Your reality is determined by your experiences as a learner.  Learner-centered instruction further acknowledges learners' differences, shifting the planning and control of learning from the instructor to the learner.

Mr. Rogers exemplified this principle, to the extent one can on TV. While the children couldn't direct the content on the episodes (the true learner-centered approach), his show included enough other content (such as visiting factories and interviewing guests) that the emotional instruction was an "offering" rather than a lesson to be imparted. Mr. Rogers’ gentle guidance and questioning put the learner at the center of the experience. He sang these words at the end of each episode: “I’ll be back, when the day is new, and I’ll have more ideas for you… You’ll have things you want to talk about… and I will, too.”

LeVar Burton helped a generation become self-directed learners.  

Actor LeVar Burton (Roots, Star Trek the Next Generation) hosted Reading Rainbow on PBS from 1983 to 2009. This beloved show encouraged a love of reading by exploring various topics related to a featured children’s book. Segments approached books from many directions, from character interviews and celebrity appearances to visiting the book's setting. Reading Rainbow earned over 200 broadcast awards, including a Peabody and 26 Emmy Awards. There are now interactive Reading Rainbow apps and video field trips for the iPad® and Kindle®.

LeVar taught around a subject, adding context by introducing related topics. Interdisciplinary learning combines learning objectives and methods from more than one branch of knowledge to focus on a central theme, issue, or problem. Interdisciplinary learning transfers knowledge gained in one discipline to another and deepens learning. 

Even with LeVar's acting skills, he didn't read or dramatize the book. Learners were encouraged to read the books themselves. Sometimes people misunderstand self-directed learning (SDL)—it is not about working alone. SDL means a learner sets and often measures their own learning goals and progress.  Another critical part of SDL includes sharing the learning process with peers and collaborating. LeVar would say, “But you don’t have to take my word for it…” Children would then come on screen and make book recommendations to each other.

Bob Ross taught skills one happy cloud at a time.

Bob Ross hosted The Joy of Painting, another PBS television show that aired from 1983 to 1994. Bob Ross demonstrated with each brushstroke how to paint landscapes in oil. Many enjoyed watching him demonstrate specific landscape painting techniques by showing how to create integral elements, such as the sky, trees, and “happy clouds.”

Observational learning is a subset of social learning theory and describes learning from watching and mimicking others' behaviors. Techniques of observational learning include modeling, shaping, and chaining. Observational learning is most common with children as they tend to copy adults naturally. However, on-the-job skills are also learned via observational learning.

People often develop new skills by shadowing. An example of this is having a new hire observe a more experienced employee on the job. Video tutorials and recorded screen captures are also observational learning. 

Bob Ross’s consistency and demonstration of skills set his instruction apart. His impeccable planning of the show achieved this consistency. Bob planned each word and made three copies of his paintings for each show. Careful planning, prepping, and storyboarding are also vital to quality workplace learning and facilitation excellence.

Employ Learner-Centered techniques as Mr. Rogers did:

  • Build open-ended questions into the learning experience.
  • Have the learner draw upon their own experience and construct their own meaning.
  • Allow the learner to direct and take ownership of what is learned.

Encourage Self-Directed and Social Learning the same way as LeVar Burton:

  • Encourage independent exploration of content by providing ample resources and materials.
  • Build peer collaboration with discussion boards and communities of practices.
  • Use an interdisciplinary approach to teach many job functions around a single example.

Create consistent Observational Learning in the same way Bob Ross did:

  • Include demonstrations or simulations. 
  • Provide guides to support workplace shadowing.
  • Prototype your learning assets.

Mr. Rogers’ listening and empathy were profound, allowing children to feel acknowledged without even being in the same room. LeVar Burton stimulated self-directed and social learning. Bob Ross led learners through excellence in observational learning. They engaged learners without being able to see or get feedback from them. You can use the same learner-centered, self-directed, social, and observational approaches employed by these famous TV educators to engage remote workplace learners today.


Mezirow, Jack (2009). An overview on transformative learning. In Knud Illeris (ed.), Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists -- In Their Own Words. Routledge.


Photos of Fred Rogers and LeVar Burton were obtained from Wikimedia commons, who provide the sourcing and copyright information for them at the following links:

®Bob Ross name and images are registered trademarks of Bob Ross Inc. © Bob Ross Inc. Used with permission.

FEATURED ARTICLE: The Importance of Needs Assessments in Global Technical Communication

By Kylie Call

According to John K. Burton and Paul F. Merrill, "the first step in solving a problem is to decide that you have one." In a college technical communication course, I applied this idea to engage with an international community in Nepal. My professor divided the class into groups. We were required to design a web or mobile application prototype with user documentation. The products needed to demonstrate cultural awareness by addressing an issue that people in Nepal face. First, my group conducted a needs assessment.

Needs assessments are the foundation for products intended for global distribution. They outline project goals and explain how cultural differences may impact reaching those goals. I can break down my experience into three steps: data collection, data analysis, and data application. 

Data Collection: Knowing Your Audience

Collecting sufficient information is essential to the needs assessment's success. I gathered data from local newspaper articles, journal articles, and various websites because distance prevented me from direct observation. I sought out information about digital literacy and gender inequality. Doing this initial research helped me think of questions to ask the subject matter experts (SMEs) who represented Code for Nepal, an international volunteer-based organization. The SMEs filled in my data gaps and helped me understand the context and issues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic better. I learned about factors that play a role in Nepal's low digital literacy rate, such as geographical differences and limited internet connectivity. Digging deeper, I discovered how digital literacy empowers people economically and socially. The SMEs’ involvement was valuable because I struggled to find information about Nepalis communities during COVID-19 on my own. They eased my initial hesitations about whether I was capable of communicating to a global audience. The relationships that I formed with them are among the most significant takeaways from my service-learning experience.

Data Analysis: Putting the Pieces Together

Data analysis helped define a specific audience and objectives. From my data, I concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated Nepal's existing problems with digital literacy and gender-based inequalities. Students and teachers are struggling to adapt to life online. Technological advancement has many positive outcomes for communities, such as providing economic mobility. But the greater use of technology coupled with the lack of knowledge about cyber-safety makes people vulnerable to predators. Cyber-crime has been referred to by The Kathmandu Post as one of the "biggest challenges to law and order." Data also revealed that women and young girls in Nepal experience cyber-crime in the form of cyber-sexual harassment at high rates. While social media has become a popular pastime for young people during quarantine, it has also become a platform for cyber-sexual harassment to occur. My findings helped me brainstorm a mobile application geared towards young Nepalese women to understand cyber-sexual harassment and provide them with social media safety tips. 

Data Application: Creating a Mobile-based Prototype

My data helped the group make decisions regarding the design of our project. We formatted our mobile application as a quiz game to capture the attention of our young audience. The user answered questions about realistic scenarios that they might experience online. The questions taught users how to identify cyber-sexual harassment and what actions to take to protect themselves. Real-life occurrences inspired the questions. The Himalayan Times stated that in 2015, police arrested Rahul Balmiki for hacking the Facebook accounts of over 40 women and blackmailing victims with obscene images and messages. This incident prompted my group to include questions about sexual harassment on Facebook. Data also influenced the prototype’s and user documentation's development. GlobalStats reports that Android is the primary operating system in Nepal, so the prototype was developed as an Android application. The user documentation provided step-by-step instructions for navigating the application. My group used plain, simple sentences for easy translation to Nepali. We created annotated visuals to aid the text. A section in the app included additional cyber-safety resources for children and adolescents from reputable organizations such as UNICEF.

Overall, needs assessments serve to guide decision-making when developing a project. My needs assessment allowed me to target a critical issue that puts people's health and well-being from a marginalized community at risk. I better understood the problem of cyber-sexual harassment in Nepal and outlined a course of action that benefitted my intended audience the most. Through the process, I gained skills valued by the modern, global workforce. I learned how to collect information for stakeholders (i.e., my Professor from Nepal and the class's community partner) and work with diverse colleagues. Performing a thorough needs assessment was time-consuming. But it improved the quality of the deliverables. I feel that higher-quality products increase the likelihood of the audience reaching the desired outcome.


I want to thank Dr. Sweta Baniya, my professor, and the representatives from Code for Nepal, for providing me with this opportunity. I gained a greater intercultural understanding; familiarizing myself with the needs assessment process also enhanced my skill set as a technical communicator. 


Burton, John K., and Paul F. Merrill. “Chapter 2 Needs Assessment: Goals, Needs, and Priorities.” Essay. In Instructional Design: Principles and Applications, 21. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, 1977. 

Dhungana, Shuvam. “Crime Rate in Nepal Rose by 40 Percent in Past Five Fiscal Years, Police Data Reveals.” The Kathmandu Post. The Kathmandu Post, December 8, 2019.,Crime%20rate%20in%20Nepal%20rose%20by%2040%20percent%20in%20past,in%20the%20last%20fiscal%20year. 

“Operating System Market Share Nepal.” StatCounter Global Stats, February 2021. 

“Youth Arrested on Cyber Crime Charges.” The Himalayan Times, July 9, 2015.

Getting the Most from my IDL SIG Student Membership

By Anita Matechuk

I made the scary decision to volunteer for the IDL SIG last fall. Because I was only half-way through my schooling in technical communication, I didn’t feel qualified to volunteer. I was unsure what most of the roles did and did not have the skills to help with the rest. The email offering to volunteer was sent with one goal: learn one new skill before they realized I was not a qualified volunteer.

My first IDL SIG meeting was not as terrifying as expected. I did not understand the majority of the topics, but the friendly nature of the meeting was encouraging. The impact of meeting professional technical communicators was surprising. Working in this field requires constant learning and even though I had the most to learn, it was less daunting to know I was learning with others.

I joined my second management meeting expecting to be told my invitation was a mistake. Once I got over my shyness, they not only tolerated my student input; they valued it. After the meeting was over, I read the entire website and signed up on social media.

A notice for a free webinar showed up on Facebook, so I signed up even though I knew nothing about the topic. Since then, I have attended every free webinar that fit into my schedule. I learned a lot during some webinars while others were above my comprehension level. Each webinar expanded my technical communication vocabulary.

I looked forward to my third management meeting, but felt a little guilty because I hadn’t contributed any value. That was solved when I happily agreed to join the student outreach planning meeting when it was offered.

The student outreach planning meeting uncovered another benefit of volunteering: The more I volunteered, the more people offered mentoring. Mentors don’t force you to take on a task you aren’t comfortable doing. They encourage you to try new tasks while supporting you in your learning.

I still find some aspects of volunteering scary. Okay, I admit writing my first article is terrifying and I have no idea how to create a webinar. These are both opportunities I volunteered for, and I am excited to learn.

I plan to try everything I can as a student. This includes continuing to volunteer and signing up for webinars. I registered to become an STC mentee. My one last goal for myself is to enter the IDL SIG student article writing competition. I am not planning on writing articles for a career, but this is a great learning opportunity.

IDL Student Article: Instructional Design—Adult Learning Theories Impact Today’s Culture of Lifelong Learning

By Emily Smith

Learning new things can be both fun and frightening. It invites change into one’s life on many levels; even the adventuresome among us often resist it. The popular job-finding website Workopolis reports that Canadians could have as many as 15 different jobs in their working lifetimes (2014); each job change comes with the opportunity and challenge to learn new skills and content knowledge. In addition to on-the-job learning, researcher Philippe Carré says that adults are equally choosing to learn new things in their personal lives (2015). It seems that adults today are changing a lot and often.

What kind of culture supports adults’ frequent and diverse learning? This article describes where adult learning theories originated, how employers can leverage adult learning theories to teach new employees more effectively, and how adult learners are now popularly considered lifelong learners.

Adult learning theory: History and terms

Some people might think that teaching children (pedagogy) and teaching adults are the same process but Malcolm Knowles (1968) asserted that teaching adults is distinct from pedagogy.

According to Svein Loeng, American Malcolm Knowles popularized the term andragogy in the United States. Knowles says it means “the art and science of helping adults learn” (1968). Loeng describes Knowles’ ideas as “…a set of assumptions about adult learners …[that includes] some recommendations concerning planning, directing, and evaluating adults’ learning” (2018).

Knowles’ ideas are summarized below:

  • Adults are independent learners.
  • Adults pull lessons from their own life experiences.
  • Adults prefer to learn in specific social contexts.
  • Adults focus on learning things they can use right away.
  • Adults are motivated by themselves.

For example, adults who choose something to study based on their own needs or interests (professional or personal) would do better than adults who are told to take a course in something they have no prior connection to.

Phillipe Carré takes this idea a step further to assert that adult learning theory is actually facilitation pedagogy [my translation]. Carré says that for learning to happen, adults need a facilitator, a teacher, or an interface to guide them to do the learning themselves.

For example, when adults who are studying a foreign language learn about professions, they learn more by using the new language to describe a favorite job they have held to others. Then learning deepens when they compare information from others’ descriptions to find similarities and differences. The instructor or interface (book, website, app) provides some support for the process without providing all the content. Students learn the content through social activity.

New hires: Training vs. Coaching

New employees face a steep learning curve. Professional teachers in a school environment lead children through the learning process. Adults needing to acquire new skills or knowledge also benefit from specific support.

Carré says the training provided for a new employee does not always result in good job performance; he points out that training does not guarantee learning (2015).

Similarly, Chris A. Woodward (2007) concluded that using Knowles’ ideas in designing training for new employees increased the training’s effectiveness compared to previous training that did not use Knowles’ ideas. Applying adult learning theory to workplace training helps new employees better prepare for their new jobs.

These examples of training activities do not use Knowles’ ideas:

  • Watching a series of public service announcement-style videos on company policies.
  • Listening to lecture-style presentations about employee responsibilities.
  • Reading an employee handbook.

Elaine Cox (2015) argues that coaching and Knowles’ andragogy are similar.

According to Cox, coaching through conversation helps the learner get the most out of a learning opportunity in a variety of ways:

  • Helps the learner make sense of the material.
  • Helps the learner understand the learning process.
  • Helps the learner relate to the material and learning process.

Both coaching and facilitation pedagogy provide the adult learner with support to increase learner receptivity to the content.

These examples of coaching and training activities use Knowles’ ideas:

  • A group of pre-service teachers have the opportunity to reflect on their own successful and not-successful learning experiences with an experienced teacher-trainer that highlights the value of their own experiences for their future as teachers.
  • A new employee poses questions to an experienced employee, gathering information about the challenges and tricks to mastering the new skills.
  • During the onboarding process at a company, a new employee completes some tasks related to the new role and then undergoes a workshop process with a trainer to improve their performance.

Today’s adults: lifelong learners

Lifelong learning has become a popular catchphrase. Lifelong learners believe learning is always possible and it never has to stop, even as adults. Is this very different from Knowles’ ideas?  No, the term simply helps frame the adult learning process as an ongoing venture rather than one or a series of isolated events.

According to Julia Gross (2012), “lifelong learning has elements of adult education, continuing education, self-directed learning, and the ideal of the individual reaching his/her full potential”.

Carré (2015) and Loeng (2018) both reference ‘lifelong learning’ in their work about adult learners. Similarly, researchers Maurice Taylor, David Trurnpower, and Ivana Pavic (2013) use "lifelong learners" to describe adult learners acquiring new skills throughout their article.

Osark Nowik (2020) says, “lifelong learners recognize the importance and joy of growth so they never settle for what they currently know and always seek for improvement.”

Nowik (2020) provides a list of 12 habits lifelong learners have in common:

  • Read on a daily basis.
  • Attend various courses.
  • Actively seek opportunities to grow.
  • Take care of their bodies.
  • Have diverse passions.
  • Love making progress.
  • Challenge themselves with specific goals.
  • Embrace change.
  • Believe it is never too late to start something new.
  • Have a contagious attitude towards getting better.
  • Leave their comfort zone.
  • Never settle down.

Ultimately, adult learning theory is not a new concept but one that impacts the way businesses can manage new employees and professional development opportunities, and the way adults relate to learning new skills and knowledge today. Consider adult learning theory and lifelong learning habits whenever teaching or learning something new to ensure success.


Carré, Phillipe. "De l'apprentissage à la formation. Pour une nouvelle psychopédagogie des adultes." Revue francaise de pédagogie (Recherches en éducation), no. 190 (March 2015): 29-40.

Cox, Elaine. "Coaching and Adult Learning: Theory and Practice." New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no. 148 (2015): 27-38.

Gross, Julia. Building Your Library Career with Web 2.0. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2012.

Knowles, Malcolm. Andragogy in action: Applying modern principles of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1984.

—. The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. New York, New York: Association Press, 1968.

Loeng, Svein. "Various ways of understanding the concept of andragogy." Edited by Edith Omwami. Cogent Education 5, no. 1 (January 2018): 1-15.

Nowik, Osark. Lifehack. 02 17, 2020. (accessed 02 21, 2020).

Taylor, Maurice, Davic Trurnpower, and Ivana Pavic. "Unravelling the Lifelong Learning Process for Canadian Workers and Adult Learners Acquiring Higher Skills." Journal of Research & Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary & Basic Education 2, no. 2 (2013): 101-113.

Woodward, Chris A. "Using Adult Learning Theory for New-Hire Training." MPAEA Journal of Adult Education 36, no. 1 (2007): 44-47.

Workopolis. Workopolis. 04 12, 2014. (accessed 02 08, 2020).

Emily Smith is enrolled in the online Technical Communication Certificate program at Simon Fraser University, Canada. She currently teaches Grade 4 at an American curriculum international school in Qatar. Her passion for learning and teaching gives her lots of opportunities for fun and adventure in many far-off places. She is hoping a career in technical communication will help her continue to push the traditional boundaries.