Category Archives: Uncategorized

ISO/RTO Training Working Group 2017

I spoke at the 2017 ISO/RTO Training Working Group meeting at the Southwest Power Pool in beautiful Little Rock, Arkansas today.

Here are some of the things I mentioned:

Books & Papers


  • Safari Online Books – OMG I love this site! It satisfies my need for nerdy computer books and nerdy instructional design books including the books I list above. They have every ATD book here and also have tons of instructional videos. Look for the $199/year special around Black Friday.
  • Coursera’s Learning How to Learn – This course from professors Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnovsky have really good information about getting better at learning complicated things. While in some places the materials violate some of the guidance from Clark & Mayer (see books above), I can forgive it because the information is so good.
  • Dr. Chuck’s Python for Everyone – This video course has some really nice instruction on programming. Be sure to watch his explanation of conditional execution (even if you don’t know or care) to see some expert explanations.
  • Pixabay – Public domain photographs and vector drawings. This is a good place to go for copyright-free images for your training materials.
  • Lorem Ipsum – Use this when you need filler words to demonstrate a layout but you don’t want reviewers to get hung up on the content (spoiler alert! They ALWAYS get hung-up on the content!!!).
  • eLearning Brothers Cutout People – This site has some good cutout people that you can use as on-screen coaches. They also have some great templates for all of the major elearning authoring tools.


  • Zotero – This is my go-to application for knowledge management. I use it to store research papers during my literature reviews. It automagically creates bibliographies in whatever format your school requires using a plug-in for Microsoft Word or LibreOffice (free software office suite – I used it for my slides).

Instructional Designers: Top 10 Skills

image of books


I’ve often wondered what would happen if my company got taken over.

If I had to re-apply for my job, would I be re-hired or would I get the boot?

Lately, I’ve been looking at job descriptions – not because I’m looking for a new job …I have the best job in the world and I am definitely not looking for a new one! I’m just interested in seeing how I compare to what the industry wants. I’m constantly trying to get better at my job.

After reviewing 24 job descriptions for instructional designers, here are the top 10 most recurring skills that I saw:

  1. Bachelor’s degree – Having a bachelor’s degree, preferably in instructional design or anything else, seems like the starting line. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree you are hurting …unless you have a killer portfolio.
  2. Good written and verbal communication skills – This goes without saying: if you can’t speak or write English you have some challenges …in the future this will morph to include cross-culture communication …English-only speakers, you have been warned.
  3. Experience with course development software – Lectora, Captivate, Storyline, PowerPoint(!) and Camtasia …yes, PowerPoint was mentioned way more than I expected, nonetheless, experience with one of the big dogs is still a plus.
  4. Instructional design theory – Get a masters degree or start reading …seriously, you need to know this stuff.
  5. Learning management system (LMS) experience – If you don’t already have experience with an LMS where you work take a look at free software and open source solutions like Canvas, Sakai or Moodle.
  6. Project management experience – Instructional design can sometimes be like herding cats. Additionally, it’s really important to be able to break a project into chunks for proper sequencing.
  7. Masters degree – More jobs than I expected had this requirement. While you can get a job without a master’s degree, having one will make you stand out.
  8. Adult learning experience – knowledge of adult learning techniques is definitely a plus in the corporate learning environment
  9. Perform a needs assessment – Entire books have been written on this skill. It is vital to the success of a project – yet, remarkably, a lot of people either don’t do one or they don’t know how to do one.
  10. 5 to 7 years of experience – There’s not much to say about this.

If you have a job, you may consider using this list to focus on your shortcomings. I know I will.

Remember, you never know when your job may go away. Be ready to get a new one if you have to.

By the way, here are the next 5 skills if you’re interested:

  • Instructor-led training – Be able to deliver training – a lot of instructional designers do not have this skill in their wheelhouse. While this skill is not a typical ID skill, some small companies may require instructional designers to pull double-duty as an instructor.
  • HTML – Know how to create web pages and web content for training …become a nerd!
  • SCORM – The sharable content object reference model is the standard for web-based training.
  • Script writing – This is so important for narrated eLearning …remember to say your scripts out loud before you submit them for approval! Also, be sure to write in a conversational tone.
  • Time management – Most instructional designers are working on at least 3 projects at the same time. Without time management skills you won’t get anything done.

Backups: Don’t Lose Your Family Photos

public domain vector image of a hard drive
One of my friends contacted me recently about a failed hard drive in his 2009 iMac. Soon after an update the computer was failing to complete its normal boot sequence and it got stuck in a reboot-loop.

When I asked him if there was anything on the drive he needed to keep, he said yes. It turns out that he has over 40,000 photos of his kid and his family that is priceless.

Then I asked the question that I always hate to ask.

My question: “Do you have a backup?”

My friend’s answer: “No.”


I hate to ask this question because 99% of the time the answer is “no” and no one feels good after I ask it.

My friend ended up taking the computer to the Apple Store. There the genius was able to see that the computer and the hard drive were communicating but he could not see the partition that was once there that had the family photos. The genius recommended an authorized Apple repair shop in the area that specializes in hard drive recovery.

My friend is going to have to pay several hundred up to maybe multiple thousands of dollars recover the files from this failed hard drive – with no guarantee that the files can even be recovered!

Please don’t let this happen to you.

Backup your system to another hard drive – frequently and definitely before any major system updates. Hard drives are (relative to disk data recovery) very cheap.

A new 1 terabyte (TB) drive costs around $50. Sending a broken drive to a data recovery specialist can cost (depending on the failure mode) between $750 and $3,000 (or more!!!) to recover the data and put it on a new disk.

This is definitely one of those things that is way cheaper to pay now vs. pay later.

Note: The recommended action items below assume that you are using some kind of encryption. Without encryption, any backups you make – to a physical drive or cloud backup service – will be viewable by other people.

Action Items: Today

Physical Backup

  1. Determine what files on your computer you cannot live without (family photos, tax returns, business files, home videos of kids, etc.)
  2. Buy two hard drives that are bigger than your installed hard drive
  3. Buy two USB 3.0 hard drive enclosures (there are some really nice ones from Amazon that don’t even need tools)
  4. Clone your existing hard drive onto each of these new hard drives
  5. Test your clones to make sure they work
  6. Keep one clone nearby and take the other clone somewhere safe – outside of your house
  7. Every month (or more often) re-clone your hard drive and swap the on-hand clone with your remote clone – that way you’ll always have a one-month-old clone if your hard drive fails …if you’re super-savvy you can make incremental backups instead of clones (saves a ton of time)

Cloud Backup

IMPORTANT: Once you put something online it will be there forever. Consider that before you embark on an unencrypted upload to an online service

  1. Get an account with an online backup service (check Consumer Reports for the best one)
  2. Start backing up your computer to this service

Action Items: Future

Before doing an upgrade (i.e. Windows 10 –> Windows 12 or MacOS 10.12 –> 10.13):

  1. Buy a new hard drive – yes, in addition to everything you already have
  2. Clone (exact copy) your existing hard drive to the new hard drive
  3. Test the clone to make sure it works
  4. Perform the system upgrade on the existing hard drive
  5. Test it to make sure the upgrade worked
  6. Take the clone that you made in Step 2 and take it somewhere safe outside your home
  7. Don’t touch this clone until it is time to upgrade to the next version of your operating system

Now you have a perfect clone that you can use if something breaks. Plus you still have your periodic backups that you were making from the Action Items: Today list above.

Moving from OS X to GNU/Linux: Applications

Moving from OS X to GNU/Linux was pretty easy because I was able to find comparable Free Software (libre) alternatives to many of the proprietary applications I used on Mac OS X.

Here is a listing of my most-used Mac OS X applications and the alternatives I now use on GNU/Linux:

  • Microsoft Office – I now do everything in LibreOffice. LibreOffice is a fork of the older OpenOffice. It is fantastic. I will occasionally use Microsoft Office 365 on GNU/Linux to edit files inside a browser window.
  • Screenflow screencasting software – I now use a combination of Kazam for screen capture, Audacity for audio editing, and KDEnlive for the video editing.
  • Firefox & Chrome – I use the Firefox version made for Debian and the Chromium browser (both work with 1Password)
  • SnagitShutter is nice. It has editing features to make simple annotations.
  • iMovie – The previously mentioned KDEnlive and OpenShot are fantastic non-linear video editors.
  • Marked2 – For editing markdown files, ReText can never reach the awesomeness that Brett Terpstra achieved with Marked but it is still pretty nice to use. If you haven’t heard of markdown, just buy Markdown by David Sparks. Markdown editing is the one skill I now use more often than anything else. It is a massive time saver.
  • 1Password – I now use the Windows version of 1Password on GNU/Linux (my HowTo post). I have recently been working on a transition to KeePass2. **UPDATE**: I moved to KeePass (read about it)
  • YNAB – The Windows version of YNAB personal finance and budget software runs on GNU/Linux using Wine. I would love to move to GnuCash for this kind of money tracking but the iPhone app for YNAB and the syncing is soooo easy to use.
  • OmniFocus – OmniFocus just might be one of the best Mac and iPhone productivity (Getting Things Done or GTD) apps out there. The OmniFocus graphical user interface is tip-top. That said, upon switching to GNU/Linux I changed to the command-line Taskwarrior productivity manager. It took me a couple of days to get the hang of but now I can’t live without it. Besides a web browser, it is my most-used application.
  • Adobe Photoshop – The Gnu Image Manipulation Program or GIMP is a perfect alternative to the super-expensive Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator – Creating and editing scalable vector graphics is really easy and fun using Inkscape. I love this app. There is even a great course on to help you learn Inkscape.
  • Photos (formerly iPhoto) – My photo management is now taking place in Shotwell. Though, there are some alternatives such as Digikam and Darktable.

Sadly, there are still some Mac OS X applications that I have not been able to find an alternative to in GNU/Linux.

  • PDFPen – This Mac-only PDF manipulation application is pretty much the best thing that ever happened to PDF. Surprisingly the iPad version of this app is equally fantastic.
  • Textexpander – I have not yet been able to find anything that comes close to comparing with the awesomeness that is Textexpander. If you use a Mac and you don’t have Textexpander you are doing it wrong!
  • iCal – Unfortunately, I am still using Calendar via I will soon be moving my contacts and calendar to Nextcloud – expect a post on that when it happens.

Besides the proprietary 1Password, YNAB, and Microsoft Office 365, all the GNU/Linux software I now use is Free Software (“free” as in freedom/libre) or Open Source Software. It is also available free of charge!

I think the best way to find Free Software applications it to visit the Free Software Foundation’s Free Software Directory. The software is sorted by groups and has pretty good descriptions.

Additionally, the Ubuntu Mate distribution (which I use on my RaspberryPi) has a great software tool called ubuntu-mate-welcome that you can install on regular old Ubuntu. It has a nice listing of useful proprietary software and Free Software (you can tick a box to hide the proprietary software).

ISO/RTO TWG 2016 – List of things mentioned

Here is a partial and unorganized list of some of the stuff mentioned at the ISO/RTO Training Working Group meeting.

  • International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) – certifying body for standards-based training program …blesses you to grant globally-accepted continuing education hours to learners
  • Checklist Manifesto – great book by Dr. Atul Gawande about how the use of checklists can help even the smartest people from making needless mistakes
  • International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction (ibstpi)lower case acronym intentional …this is the body that creates the standards upon which many learning industry certifications are based
  • Xyleme Author – XML-based content development that encourages a more atomic approach to content development that encourages reuse, helps with version control, and acts as a central location for the storage of content …cool because it allows export into deliverable formats such as PDF, web, PowerPoint, Word, etc.
  • Bottom-Line Performance – outside contractor for computer-based training (CBT) development
  • – online proofreading tool
  • – online project management, collaboration, and workflow tool
  • Articulate Online – online delivery of content made with Articulate learning content creation tools
  • e-Learning and Science of Instruction – book containing research-based recommendations for how to design learning materials for better understanding
  • Mindmapping – using mindmapping to see the connections when designing and developing training is very helpful …although this book wasn’t specifically mentioned, it is the one that I can vouch for that describes the process really well

Please make add the things I missed in the comment section.

Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering Technology

It has been a long road but I finally finished my bachelor of science in nuclear engineering technology. Even though I already have a bachelors degree in accounting and I am working on a masters in instructional design I just had to finish this BSNET that has been hanging over my head, uncompleted, for years.

I buckled down and took the last class this spring. The capstone class for this degree ended up being the hardest class I have ever taken. It was rough but I made it.

Podcasts in my Queue

I have been a heavy podcast listener since around 2003/2004. I started by listening to former MTV VJ, Adam Curry’s, Daily Source Code. Since then, not a day has gone by without some podcast listening.

Here is a list of what is in my queue and why it is there:

screenshot of my podcast player

Screenshot of my podcast player

  • DTNS – Tom Merrit’s Daily Tech News Show (DTNS) is my …uh …daily tech news show. I listen to this show every morning as I am getting ready for work. It is an easy way to keep up with all the tech news worth knowing.
  • Security Now – This podcast has been in my queue for years. It is probably my favorite podcast because it dives deep into privacy and security – two things that really matter to me.
  • Teaching in HigherEd – Although I am not “teaching in higher ed” I find a lot of the things that Professor Bonni Stachowiak discusses with her guests applies directly to adult learning. This podcast is the one that most aligns with my job. Bonni has the best guests on this show. I highly recommend it if you are interested in adult learning and educational technology. I wrote about this show before here.
  • The Linux Action Show! and LINUX Unplugged – These two shows satisfy my weekly Linux nerd needs. Chris and his co-hosts and virtual Linux User Group provide tons of great Linux and free software news and entertainment.
  • The eLearning Coach Podcast – Connie Malamed’s wonderful show has tons of information useful to me as an instructional designer. If you have a job where you make or give training, this is a show for you. All of the guests on this show are the well-known learning professionals from around the web. You will learn TONS from listening to this show.
  • The Ihnatko Almanac – This is the outlet for Chicago Sun Times columnist, Andy Ihnatko. Dan Benjamin joins Andy for stories and miscellaneous musings. Andy is hilarious and his views on life are classic. This podcast does not seem to have any strict release schedule but when I see it pop up in my queue it jumps over pretty much everything else. By the way, Andy’s writing is fantastic. I wrote about his writing style previously.
  • Mac Power Users – Even though I have reduced my Mac usage to less than 1% of my total computer usage (Linux all the way – woohoo!!!), I still love listening to Katie Floyd and David Sparks talk about the interesting way they are using computers in their respective law practices and in their creative lives. If you use a Mac, I highly recommend giving this show a listen. I found out about this show about one year after they started recording. After I listened to the first show, I went back and listened to everything from episode 1. These guys are serious Mac power users.

That is my queue. I hope you find some of these podcasts as entertaining as I do.

Share your podcast recommendations in the comments!

HBR Article on Competency-Based Education

This week I took a deep dive into the world of competency-based education.

The article that spurred this on is The Real Revolution in Online Education isn’t MOOCs by Michelle Wiese in the Harvard Business Review.

I have a background in this type of learning because this is the type of education that I received in the Navy while becoming a nuclear power plant operator. After the Navy, the company I work for used the same type of learning system to teach me how to become a grid operator.

While my experience with competency-based learning was workplace-centered, the online educational trend described in this article has to do with online college learning.

In a competency-based education online degree program students are freed from the “classroom” model. Instead, students are assigned projects that they must master to prove that they have the skills described in the master skill set that defines the degree.

This type of learning can make job candidate searching really easy for a human resources department than traditional letter grades and credit hours can. This is because the traditional letter grades and credit hours do not accurately describe what someone knows, what they’ve done, or what they can do – instead, the traditional measurements only show what classes they took and how long they sat in the class.

Pecha Kucha

I had to create a Pecha Kucha for a class. If you haven’t heard of this before, it’s a brief presentation with the following limitations:

  • 20 slides
  • 20 seconds per slide

This limits presentations to just under 7 minutes. It keeps people on topic and allows multiple presentations to be packed into a very short time. Typically a few pecha kuchas are presented live and then the group divides up to flock around the presenter that they are most interested in – a question and answer session follows.

In our case, we made our pecha kuchas to be viewed online. This gave us practice using software tools to make our content viewable on the web.

My professor directed us to use Microsoft PowerPoint and Screencast-o-matic to create them. I am trying to use free software when possible, so I used this project as an excuse to flex some free software applications. Here are the app’s I used:

  • LibreOffice Impress – This free software version equivalent of PowerPoint was very easy to use. This was only my second time using Impress. It won’t be my last!
  • Kazam – This lightweight screen capture program is used to grab screencasts or screenshots. It was super easy to use and produced nice 1920×1080 screencast at 15 frames per second.
  • Audacity – I have used this application many times for recording voice-overs. I really like how quickly I can get good results with this app. I did have to take an hour-long class on to get up to speed on this app when I started using it. Since then it has been smooth sailing.
  • Kdenlive – This is a video processing app that I used to combine the presentation and the voice-over clips. This app was pure joy to use. I didn’t have to look anything up since it worked just like the iMovie app that I used to use when I was using OS X.
  • Pixabay – Ok, this is not an app. Rather, it is a website that points you to many public domain images that you can use in your presentations.

All in all, my experience making this project really left me feeling good about using free software. All of the applications that I used worked very solidly and were relatively simple to use.

Thomas Jefferson on Ideas

I happened upon Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Isaac McPherson (via Bethany Nowviskie’s blog). Here is a section that struck a chord with me:

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.