The 60-minute masters

The 60-minute masters

About the project

The goal of the 60-minute masters project, which commenced in 2007, was to develop a curriculum to train subject-matter experts in the design of rapid e-learning materials for use in the workplace. Phase 1 was the gathering and structuring of content with the aid of a wiki (now closed), which allowed a wide range of design experts from around the world to contribute their ideas. Phase 2 saw the content outline converted into a script that could in turn be developed into rapid e-learning courses for use by subject-matter experts.

Anyone can build their own 60-minute masters course based in whole or in part on these materials. If you wish you can even sell this course to others. However, in fairness to those who have contributed their efforts freely to create these materials, you should (1) not claim ownership or authorship of the materials, and (2) you should include the following credit prominently on your materials: ‘This course draws upon materials created as part of the 60-minute masters project,’ along with a link to this page.

Links to the four parts of the script can be found at the end of each of the sections of the content outline below:

Outline for the introduction

Why you need the 60-minute masters

It’s impossible for an organisation to achieve their performance goals if employees lack the necessary knowledge and skills.

Interactive online materials provide an effective and efficient way to provide the required knowledge and skills.

Poorly-designed materials can fail to engage the learner, can be poorly understood, can overload the learner with unnecessary content and are often neither remembered nor applied back on-the-job.
By following some simple rules based on extensive research you can design effective online materials that will avoid these traps and make a real difference to organisational performance.

Making the most of your your 60 minutes

Have a project in mind: relate the ideas presented here to some learning content that you’re going to have to put together sometime soon.

Complete each of the three 20-minute modules in separate sessions, taking time to reflect on each module before moving on to the next.

Do the exercises: we’ve included some questions and activities that we think will help you to make sense of the material; skip them if you’re in a hurry, but doing them will probably take you further in the long run.

Take notes: not because you’ll necessarily refer to them later, but because the process of note-taking will help you both to remember and to understand the ideas.

Script for the introduction (PDF, 400K)

Outline for Module I: Prepare

1. Set a realistic goal

Be clear about the business goal you are aiming to achieve.

Identify up to five things you want learners to do differently as a result of going through your materials.

Describe these behaviours using action verbs (“Accurately describe new product features to customers”) rather than “thinking” verbs (“Know the new features…”). This will help you to focus your materials on tangible outputs and help to make them easy for learners to apply.

Be realistic about what can be achieved with your materials, in terms of the amount of information that learners are likely to retain and the depth of what they can learn. Bear in mind that your content may need to be broken down into a number of modules and that other ingredients (on-job practice, coaching, forums, etc.) may be needed on top of your materials if you are to achieve all your aims.

2. Consider the content from the learner’s point of view

As the subject expert it can be hard to empathise with those who are new to your subject, so make a special effort to familiarise yourself with the people who will be using your materials. What prior knowledge of the subject are they likely to have? With what terminology are they likely to be already familiar? What about the subject is likely to interest them most? If possible, check out your ideas early on with one or two people who are typical of your target audience.

Gather all your content, then review it piece by piece to make sure it contributes directly to the objectives you have set. Remove any content that won’t directly help the learner achieve these objectives. Be honest – if it only takes five minutes to say something, say it in five minutes and don’t pad it out to ten.

Script for module 1 (PDF, 400K)

Outline for Module II: Inform

3. Hook learners in emotionally

Help learners understand why this subject is important. Show them the negative consequences of not knowing, as well as the positive consequences of knowing. Use relevant humor or drama, and keep it short and simple, but don’t neglect the emotional component.

4. Present your material clearly, simply and in a logical order

Unfortunately it takes longer to create simple content than the complex – but it is worth the effort.

Use simple, conversational English. Avoid ‘corporate drone’.

Remember that you probably know much more than your learners do about the subject – don’t take anything for granted.

Restrict yourself to a limited number of key points and make sure these stand out. Keep your screens clear and uncluttered.

Hold back on the detail – for those users that need them, provide supplementary materials.

Try not to provide rote procedures; instead help learners understand why steps are carried out in a particular order and where there can be variations. Even if you list the ten steps of a procedure, you don’t have to expand on every one – the majority of errors with consequences probably occur at one or two steps, so concentrate on these.

5. Illuminate your material with imagery

Imagery (photos, diagrams, charts, illustrations, animations, screen captures, video) can communicate what words sometimes can not.

Relevant imagery acts as a powerful aid to memory.

Avoid imagery that is purely decorative and does not aid learning.

6. Consider using audio.

If technically feasible, consider using narration to accompany and describe images. This frees up space on the screen that would otherwise be taken up by text and makes it easier for the user to digest the information.

Avoid using narration that simply recites the text on the screen – rather than helping, this actually serves as a barrier to comprehension.

Don’t use audio if your materials are going to be used purely for reference, as this slows down access.

Script for module 2 (PDF, 400K)

Outline for Module III: Consolidate

7. Put your material into context with examples, cases and stories

Learners find abstractions difficult to digest and hard to relate to, so provide learners with examples, stories and case studies that are as relevant as possible to their circumstances.

When teaching procedures, demonstrations/models are really powerful communication tools, providing learners with a base from which to guide their own performance. Be explicit about the decisions that need to be taken at each step. Consider showing mistakes and how they can be repaired, as this really helps learners understand the rationale behind the procedure and equips them to become self-improving performers.

8. Engage users with challenging interactions

If the purpose of your materials is to facilitate learning rather than provide simple just-in-time support, then you will increase your chances of success if you have the learner interact with the content.
Meaningful interaction helps maintain the learner’s attention and aids retention of the content. (Meaningful interactions are those that ask the learner to work with your material in a context that is comparable to the real-work situation. Questions that simply check for recall of information that has just been presented are not meaningful.)

Interaction can be used to provide an early, but not conclusive, indicator that you are achieving your goal for the materials and that learning is being accomplished.

Interactions that are not challenging will insult the intelligence of your learners.

Interactions can be used to build on the learner’s prior knowledge and help lead them towards your key points. This process is likely will be more powerful than tell-and-test.

Interactions do not have to take place on-screen; they can also take place away from the materials.

9. End with a call to action

Interactive materials are rarely an end in themselves. Point the learner towards the next step.

Consider how the learner will be able to provide feedback on your materials or ask any questions they may have.

Provide a mechanism for discussion of the content, by whatever medium.

Provide links to supplementary materials, related web sites, email addresses, etc.

Provide learners with ideas for ways to keep the knowledge active until it’s used; ways to practise, or remind themselves of key points.

Script for module 3 (PDF, 400K)