Performing a Needs Analysis

This is a guest post from Dale Street.

Meeting with a new client for the first time can seem overwhelming. How can you possibly understand enough about their business to create a learning product that has value and a high probability of sticking with their employees?

We’ve learned a lot in working with different clients. Sometimes the easy way, and often the hard way. Here are a few things to consider when performing a needs analysis with a client:

Understand Their Business

The foundation for any learning project should come from the priorities of the business. If something doesn’t relate back to the business being successful, why do it? A few questions you should consider asking are:

  • What are your business’ priorities or goals?
  • What does success look like to your organization?
  • How are you structured?
  • What types of communication do you typically use?
  • How have you delivered training to your employees in the past?

That last one's a doozy! Don’t make the assumption that your client has a Learning Management System (LMS). If they don’t, and more don’t than do, how are you going to deliver your end product to their employees?

Understand The Behaviors

After you have a better understanding of the organization, it’s time to narrow down exactly what behaviors the learning will impact. We like to think of this as the 5 W’s, with a little twist:

  • What would you like your employees to be able to do after they finish this training?
  • Who (which employees) need to change their behavior? And what are they doing currently that is not working?
  • Why are they not already exhibiting those behaviors?
  • How will the change in those employees impact your business priorities?
  • Let’s pretend we are 6 months post-training implementation, what would be happening for you to say “Wow, that learning project that Paper Plane delivered was wildly successful?”

The goal here is to ensure that learning intervention will work, and identify how to measure it’s success.

Understand The Project

Ok, great! Now you know who the business is, and what type of training you need to deliver to their employees. The last piece is making sure you have a full scope of the project. Here are a few questions that may help in fully scoping out your project:

  • What is driving the urgency for this project, and when do you need to deliver it by?
  • What technical requirements are there?
    • Does the LMS require a specific type of file?
    • Do the learners typically access training on a mobile device?
  • What is the ROI of the project, and what is your total budget?
  • Who needs to approve the final product?
  • Are there any legal implications or approvals required?

What's the difference between Captivate and Storyline?

Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline are the two most popular applications to create and manage eLearning courses. Let’s examine their pros and cons:

Articulate Storyline


  • Similar layout to Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Ability to import existing PowerPoint presentations
  • Vast array of variables, triggers, sliders and timelines
  • Access to library of 1.5+ million images and customizable slide templates designed by pros
  • Free mobile app for viewing content on iOS and Android devices, including an offline capability
  • Strong support community - quick responses from company staff and other users alike


  • Windows only (however, content can still be viewed on Apple devices)
  • Does not adapt content for mobile devices but simply scales projects down to fit on smaller screens
  • Many tools are lost in a dense menu system
  • ~$1000 per year for a new Articulate 360 individual license (price as of posting of this article)

Adobe Captivate


  • If familiar with the Adobe layout, Captivate will feel somewhat intuitive
  • Ability to import existing PowerPoint presentations
  • Compatible with the entire Adobe Creative suite
  • Provides access to the ‘asset store’, an online library of over 25,000 layouts, scenarios, games, interactions, etc.
  • Content rearranges itself for tablet and mobile views (testing for mobile views can be done within the application)
  • Allows users to create storyboards quickly and share them in real-time via the cloud (reviewers do not need a copy of the software to view)
  • ~$30 a month or full license ~$1000. Student & teacher discounts available (price as of posting of this document)


  • If not familiar with Adobe products, steep learning curve
  • Adobe community provides videos and feedback for learners, but the company itself provides little in the way of support
  • Content creation can be tricky and frustrating, with many tools hidden or hard to find
  • Not included in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, must be purchased separately


The end-user will not notice a difference between the published version of the eLearning. However, creation and maintenance will vary drastically between the two applications.

  • Look into Adobe Captivate if... Are you a MAC user? Familiar with Adobe? A student or teacher?

  • Look into Articulate Storyline if... Do you own a PC? Have a high-level experience in eLearning development? Looking to further your knowledge with the help of a strong support community?

OR... avoid the decision altogether and allow us to create or update your eLearning.

What is AR/VR?!?

This is a guest post from Dale Street.

It’s everywhere. It’s the latest rage. Social media, the news, your grandmother, everyone is talking about it... AR/VR

It’s so big that Greg Beaubien from the Public Relations Society of America asserts that “a quarter of millennials and Gen Z workers want their employers to incorporate virtual-reality and augmented-reality technologies into the workplace, for training and other purposes.”

AR/VR is “the next big thing” that will “change the way we live.” But, what the heck is it?

AR/VR is Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Both use technology to change “reality” or really your learner’s perception of reality. While they are similar, the two are quite different and often confused.  Let’s take a look at each.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment.  In the world of learning, it’s the ability to have your learner interact with a particular environment or thing in a seemingly real or physical way without actually having to put your learner in that environment or give them access to that particular thing. Essentially, VR creates or simulates an entire environment or object for a learner to explore. The environment or object can be created by capturing 360 video of a location, or by using modeling to simulate the location with graphics. Typically, learners would use “googles” like Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, or Samsung Gear VR to block out their world and fully experience the VR environment.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR), on the other hand, is a technology that places or lays a computer-generated image or information on a user's true view of the real world. Your learners are still seeing their current environment but with additional items or information. A great example of this would be Pokemon Go, Snapchat filters, or Microsoft HoloLens. While a user is still seeing their true environment, their view is “enhanced” with information, graphics, and more.

Still Confused?

To give you a good analogy, in VR your learner can experience what it might look and feel like to jump out of an airplane from the comfort of their home, while in AR your learner would instead see stats on altitude and speed while actually skydiving. While slightly different, one is not necessarily better than the other.

How can AR/VR be used in training?

There are so many different use cases. Here are just a few…

  1. Retail - Let’s pretend you are hiring a new manager for your retail store, and you need to train them to properly merchandise your store. Wouldn’t it be great if they were able to pop on a VR headset and follow prompts to merchandise a virtual store?
  2. Technicians - Technician positions can be tough, regardless of the industry. Heights, cellars, animals, ladders, you can imagine all the things they have to interact with every day. Attrition can often be high in this type of work since employees don’t always know what they are getting into. Wouldn’t it be great to ensure that a new hire was really going to be ok with the type of work by experiencing it first-hand in VR? Think of the cost savings!
  3. Sales - A lot of sellers have to memorize ever changing information, carry around technical manuals, or constantly search for information on their phone, or laptop. How wonderful would it be if they had an AR solution that allowed them to scan an object and  all that information was then projected on a surface to share on-demand with their customer?

4 Design Tips When Developing eLearning

Developing elearning can be a daunting task. You have to wear many hats - HTML decipherer, cognitive specialist, UX expert, and graphic designer to name a few. Today let’s focus a little on the graphic designer hat.

Here are 4 design tips to think about for your next elearning project.

1. Use Brand Guidelines as a Starting Point

Whether you’re in-house or freelance, the company sponsoring the project should have brand guidelines for you to use.

These guidelines will usually encompass many different aspects of how the company should be portrayed including:

  • Fonts
  • Colors
  • Logo
  • Photography
  • Voice

Here’s a great article that gives you 36 (!) examples of brand guidelines for some companies you’ve definitely heard of.

2. Use Color Swatches

Once you know the brand, create color swatches to make sure you’re following it. Color swatches give you a collection of user-defined colors. So take the color palette found in your brand guidelines and create a set of swatches that can then be imported into Captivate or another authoring tool. This way you know that every time you choose a brand color it’s the right value.

Directions on how to create a swatch collection in photoshop can be found here.

3. Design for Mobile AND Desktop

Create a single elearning module that is sized to fit a landscape tablet (iPad is safe, but check to see if another device is being used). This way you can use the same module for tablet and desktop applications.

Think about a cross platform elearning experience. Things like:

  • Large buttons that can be clicked or tapped.
  • Animations or actions that are mobile friendly. (no roll overs)
  • Small, digestible modules that can be viewed from anywhere.

4. Great Artists Steal

There are fantastic FREE resources all over the Internet for you to take advantage of to help augment or enhance your design. One such tool is Font Awesome. Font Awesome is a font family that is actually a set of images. This gives you an easy way to create a vector-like image that can be scaled up or down without loss of quality.

It’s especially great for building icons. Simply take a Font Awesome character and combine it with a shape.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these four design tips to get you started when you’re developing your next elearning module. If you’re looking for consultation on improving your elearning aesthetic, drop us a line!

Creating eLearning that Aligns with Your Business' Bottom Line

In graduate school, I read a book that took an evidence-based approach to eLearning design and development - Clark and Mayer’s eLearning and the Science of Instruction (2008).  What I loved about this book at the time was that it gave both proven (check!) and practical (check!) guidelines for how to create eLearning that actually leads to learning and performance improvement. Little did I know then how useful these tips and tricks would be in my career as an eLearning designer and developer for several Fortune 500 companies - useful not only because they lead to learning but also because they work for the business.  I know, I know, if you’re in the field, you know these two things RARELY, if ever, coincide! So hold onto your hats because this post gives you some simple, evidence-based eLearning design principles (thank you Clark and Mayer!) that are sure to resonate in the business setting, making sense both from a learning perspective as well as your business’ bottom line.

The Segmentation Principle

Learning lengthy, complex topics can often lead to cognitive overload. It can also be impractical in a fast-paced business setting. The Segmentation Principle in eLearning is the idea that in order to be effective, complex topics should be chunked into bite-size segments. It’s not always possible to remove content from a lesson, but you can break it down into short, sensible segments, thus lowering the cognitive complexity for your learner.

Why It Will Work for You: I love this principle in the workplace!  I don’t know about you, but I’m always getting feedback that training takes away from other tasks...primarily those that make the company money. This principle translates particularly well in sales organizations.  Don’t worry about teaching your sales folks everything at once.  Roll it out in short, well-done, well-spaced out modules - making not only their brains happy but also the business happy because it doesn’t take your people off the floor for too long.

The Coherence Principle

Turns out not anything and everything about a topic is absolutely necessary to learning. Similar to the segmentation principle in that too much information can overload your learner, the Coherence Principle is the idea that you should only add information to an eLearning module that is absolutely necessary to the instructional goal. When in doubt, leave it out, is what I like to say. This includes the idea that simpler can actually be better when it comes to things like graphics and/or explanations of processes.

Why It Will Work for You: The coherence principle is another practical principle I love, although I admit, this one can be a bit more challenging in the workplace when inevitably you’ll have that one project manager or product owner who thinks they need to add every last stinking detail about a given topic to the eLearning module in order for it to be effective.  Remove the extraneous clutter or better yet, don’t add it to begin with.  It will make you more efficient as a designer and developer which is a win for your organization while at the same time, it will reduce the amount of time learners spend trying to learn - a win for theirs.

The Personalization Principle

So here’s a cool fact - humans actually work harder to understand a concept when they are learning it in conversation with a partner (Clark & Mayer, 2008 and Beck, McKeown, Sandora Kucan, & Worthy, 1996).  The Personalization Principle is the idea that you’ll get more engagement and actually increase the quality of your learning outcomes if you use conversations rather than formal style in your written and spoken eLearning content.  It includes using personable avatars and even revealing yourself and your thoughts within the eLearning.  

Why It Will Work for You: Remember how boring your compliance training can be, especially when it’s written in legalese or a more formal writing style? And remember how we suggested in this article one of the ways you can prevent this is by getting creative? Well, the personalization principle is one way to do that.  Believe it or not, most companies actually care that their employees know things like business ethics and safety protocol. Why?  Because it saves them a ton of headaches (and MONEY) in the long-run. They don’t want their employees gaming the system - just clicking through to pass - they want them internalizing the content, living, breathing it. Ensure this happens the first time by designing and developing your eLearning in a way that uses real world scenarios, makes learners feel as though they are in a conversation by using “I” and “You”, and uses avatars that exhibit human behavior and conversational dialogue.  

So that’s it - three super practical and more importantly effective design principles that are sure to resonate with the business.  To learn more about creating eLearning that aligns with business side of the business, contact us today!

Clark and Mayer