Richard Presley's Meandering Missives

Occasional thoughts on learning, training, and the business of both


August 2013


My children listen to a lot of indie music (as opposed to mainstream pop – thank goodness!) and I pay attention to their commentary, sometimes sharing their feelings, sometimes not. One of the discussions that happened recently was on the subject of a particular group who “didn’t even write their own songs.” They were pretty much held in disdain. Part of this stems from having an older sister who not only sang a song as she walked down the aisle at her own wedding, but sang a piece she composed herself. I feel their critical review is a tad bit unwarranted, particularly in light of the fact that the most famous person sharing our surname achieved popular success BECAUSE he sang other people’s songs.

Since we were riding in the car at the time, my teacherly persona kicked in and it was time for a bit of musical education and appreciation to my captive audience. I explained that just because someone is a good writer and composer, that doesn’t make them a good performer. In fact, I intoned, excellence in writing and performance are more often mutually exclusive than not. I pointed to greats like Bob Dylan whose songs are better performed by ANYONE other than Dylan. I also remarked that Elvis Presley, as far as I know, never wrote a song in his life that appeared on the charts. Sure, there are exceptions like Johnny Cash and the indie artists they listen to, but as a general rule, there are excellent writers and there are excellent performers and they rarely overlap.

Now for the confession. It took me a LONG time to arrive at this advanced state of wisdom, and I am still having trouble with it on a few fronts, most notably as an instructional designer. Deep in my heart, I like to think of myself as an excellent instructor. I love the classroom (when I’m at the front of it, not when I’m in the seat – but then, don’t we ALL feel that way, really?) and I love teaching. I especially love teaching favorite subjects (although knowing what I’m talking about is only a “nice to have” rather than a hard and fast requirement) to eager learners. And not only do I love teaching, I love teachers. I get all warm and cozy whenever I’m surrounded by fellow educators.

But here is where my ID sensibility rears its ugly head. As an instructor, I have ALWAYS felt it was necessary to take the instructional material and tweak it or customize it to suit my personal preferences. For years, I felt a certain disdain for those who could “only” teach from the material and not only avoided innovation, but considered the training material sacrosanct and inviolable. They would look at me as if I had committed some heinous crime by modifying what was written in the Instructor Guide. It didn’t help my ego any when these same stick-in-the-mud by-the-book instructors would perform so brilliantly that they actually got applause at the end of class.

Over time, I realized it need not be thus. Probably the best exercise I had in disabusing myself of the notion that all instructors should be competent instructional designers as well was watching the 2004 movie version of The Merchant of Venice. Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons did not write the dialog, but they made it come alive in one of the most emotionally gripping presentations I’ve ever seen.  And I realized that teaching was every bit the craft that singing and acting were. Those who are excellent teachers transcend the printed page and the words at hand to transport us beyond mere instruction into deep learning, comprehension, and appreciation.

Not only that, but the performance does nothing to improve or ruin the writing on the page. Shakespeare is still Shakespeare whether he is performed horribly by ill-directed high schoolers who don’t even know the definitions of the words they are using or turned into a cinematic extravaganza like Kenneth Branaugh’s Hamlet.

So what does this have to do with anything? I’m not sure. I am still personally driven to be both a good ID and a good teacher. I love standing in front of class, commanding the attention of rapt learners, satisfying their craving for knowledge. I am also a compulsive writer. I cannot stop. I MUST put words on paper (or in electrons) and commit them to the public for consumption and judgment. Usually this is in the form of training content. Increasingly, it is turning into eLearning content that uses fewer words, more images, and far more interaction than just writing.

And I wonder if maybe eLearning is the place where instructional design and instructional performance meet, where the analogous role of singer/songwriter finds its home.


Informing Infographics

I have found so much tragedy in being an Instructional Designer that I must offer up a lament. I have learned many things from ID and one of them is that anyone with access to a software program thinks they are an accomplished Instructional Designer capable of creating the most scintillating pieces of instruction know to mortal man. Part of my current assignment involves coming along behind a Communications major and applying ID principles to some of the resources she’s created. On the other hand, I have found that I am now the kind of person who worries about kerning. No, seriously. I’m starting to care about it. The D in my ID moniker has taken on a life of its own.


So when I see things like this: marketed under the rubric of an “infographic,” my heart despairs. The visual conveys information. It also contains graphic elements. It also exists as a single piece. I suppose it therefore fits an entirely arbitrary definition of “infographic.” However, there is NOTHING about this so-called infographic’s content that supports it’s design. In other words, this could have just as easily been a series of slides in a PowerPoint presentation (and in all honesty, that’s probably where it was conceived). To that end, I believe it is time for Ed Tufte to come out with a new phrase: “Death By Infographic.”


So, with this thought in mind, here are Presley’s Principles for Pitch-Perfect Presentations


  1. Form Follows Function. Using our example, what is the function of this “infographic”? I believe its function is to serve as an advertisement to generate interest in blended learning. Does the form of this infographic achieve its purpose? I’ll let you decide.
  2. Outcome Overrules Output. It doesn’t matter how cool you think something is, does it achieve its purpose? For instance, I really like the Geico commercials. I’ve even subscribed to their YouTube channel so I get the latest updates on their new commercials. Their OUTPUT is outstanding. But do I buy Geico insurance? No. Am I likely to? Probably not. Their outcome in terms of me personally isn’t achieving their objectives. Do the pieces that we develop achieve outcomes or are they merely superior output (for which some of us can bill handsomely)? Remember, this need not be an either/or choice.
  3. Always Alliterate Unless… This is the principle that one should be intentionally disruptive. What is the most interesting character in the following string: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoOOOOO  Was it the 4th O from the left? I’m sure Lajuana would say it is because that’s just the kind of person she is. The point is, we create interest when we present something slightly unexpected, slightly off-kilter, slightly out of the norm. What could be more boring than a view of a wall of apartment windows? But when we do something just a little different, we get this: I used to be a perfectionist until I discovered that the imperfections are what creates interest. Case in point – I probably would not really have paid any attention to the referenced infographic if it had not been so outrageously imperfect. So I guess it paid off for them in the end. In other words, don’t pay attention to anything I just wrote.

SAMR – How Technology Replaces Tradition

Amid all the talk of the “Successive Approximation Model” and its replacement of ADDIE (prematurely announced, in my opinion and for what it’s worth), I stumbled on a similar acronym, SAMR. And it is only tangentially related to SAM. This model is a taxonomy for identifying the relationship between technology and teaching. The acronym works thusly:

Substitution: The technology (computer, tablet, mobile device,etc.) does the same task as the previous technology it replaced with no functional  change in teaching and learning. The best example for us former Drewsters is the push from paper-based SOPs to computer-based SOPs. The “vision” that conceived this plan saw computers performing the exact same function as those shelves of monstrous 3-ring binders.

Augmentation: The technology offers an effective tool to perform common tasks. Think of the LMS as not just a substitute of paper rosters, but also a means of implementing curricula. It becomes something more powerful than what it replaced.

Modification: Common tasks are performed where the technology is integral to performance. The use of hypertext is the easiest example to come up with. For instance Wikipedia would be unremarkable if it weren’t for the hyperlinking and constant updating available to it. Document development is so closely tied to word processing capabilities that it’s hard to imagine getting the level of collaboration and input on documents compared to the “old days” before computers.

Redefinition: Technology allows for tasks that were previously inconceivable. This is where things like the Flipped Classroom and Khan Academy are possible.

For those of you who want to do a little deeper digging, I have a couple links:


As I was looking at this slide from  the presentation, I was struck once again with the realization that we are not “Learning Management Professionals” but we are “Competency Management Professionals.” We are not merely managing the knowledge component of the workplace, but we are overseeing the broad spectrum of workplace performance.

This is aimed at pedagogy, but it applies to adult ed as well.




The whole slide presentation is interesting and I would have liked to have been able to hear the whole lecture. However, my mind went in a different direction from the presenter and I came up with this revision to the diagram:




Once again, this is a “for what it’s worth” piece, but I have found that in things like compliance training and other open-ended tasks like customer service, problem management, quality assurance, etc. that if we focus solely on the cognitive domain, we miss some very important aspects of what makes for a competent workforce. Hypothetically, a thoroughly “trained” expert in Compliance (cGMP, legal, regulatory, etc.) could score exceptionally well on assessments that measured cognitive competency but still fail miserably at actually implementing any of the behaviors and interactions that make it possible for them to actually BE compliant.

So where does that leave us as IDs and instructors? Good question.

I’ll have to look at that for next week. Or whenever I get around to writing another Friday Missive.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑