Category Archives: Learning Design

Anything to do with learning, training, teaching, educating, mentoring, coaching, developing people… oh you get the pic.

Manager and Leader at the same time?

As I do my readings to sustain my PMP cert, I came across several articles that seem to be saying that management is a science whereas leadership is an art.  And since the theme of my readings were mainly about Project Management, some articles are saying that a Project Manager has to be both a manager and a leader.

A manager uses systems and structures to get the team going in the desired direction.  He is respected because he was appointed the authority to lead the team.  He plans and manages resources, budgets, schedules, performances.

A leader, on the other hand, has followers regardless of his appointment.  A leader is visionary, motivates and inspires.  He has ideas that fulfil others’ needs.  He spots opportunities in the market and wants to be the first to grab them.  However, he usually doesn’t realise what it takes to get there.  People follow him because they share the vision, are inspired and motivated to help him fulfil that vision.  Managers are the ones who help get the people arrive at the leader’s vision.

It’s easy to see how the leader could be the company’s CEO or Director, and amongst his followers, there are good managers.

But to be a leader and manager rolled into one (i.e. a Project Manager)?  That’s pretty tough.

As a project manager, I look at details such as resource availability, capabilities, gaps in these, delays, scope creep, stakeholder management, etc…. in other words, problems, problems, problems.  I have to think of ways to mitigate, overcome or avoid problems.  Sounds sufficiently occupied to not have time to be a leader.

Even as I attempt to be a leader and not worry about how to get there, well… i just can’t.  I have to look at the details and the details tend to dash my hopes about the possibility of reaching fresh horizons.  Or I can dream and vision all I want but I need someone who can work out the details to get the team there.

Project Manager = Manager x Leader?  Tough tough.  But …

Sounds like fun and a challenge worth taking on.

We’ll see if I arrive there.  Check back in in 5 years. 🙂


Commonalities in Teaching and Learning Across the Human Lifespan

Are you an experienced trainer/teacher?  Do you teach specifically 1 group (e.g. teenagers) or have come full circle in teaching audiences across the human life span? Having experience developing people across the human lifespan is my personal objective.

I’ve come almost full circle.  I’ve taught young children (casual setting), children (academic setting), youth (academic setting), young adults (volunteer setting), adults (corporate setting).  The only thing that remains is young adults in an academic setting (e.g. as a lecturer in an institute of higher learning).  There is one group that I will forgo for now and that is the senior citizen group (roughly above 60 years old).

What have I learned so far?

I’ve learned that there are commonalities in teaching and learning across the lifespan.  There are some things that always hold true regardless of which age group you are teaching and for what purpose (e.g. academic, corporate/formal or casual).  Once you have experience teaching 1 group, there are teaching methods easily transferred to other groups.

I shall coin these commonalities the Triple R.


A genuine respect for a person, regardless how young or inexperienced, is very important in ensuring that they remain confident and motivated in their learning endeavours.

For example, if teaching a primary school kid about the meaning of “needs” and “wants” and the child’s definitions are a different from yours (as an adult), do not put down his ideas.  Instead, see things from his point of view.  Hear him out.  Understand that his collection of life experiences are very very different from yours – even your own childhood.

Talk to him at his level.  Not talk down to him.  After you have given him all ears, share with him your point of view –  he is a lot more likely to listen to you now.  Then leave it as that for he will eventually understand as he grows up and faces the world.  For such a topic, there is no need to force him to agree with you.

Even for a deterministic topic such a math, listening (includes finding out via other means) to the student’s point of view can help a teacher spot errors in logic and correct them starting from the student’s point of view.

So many times, I see educators (or parents / ppl in authority) putting down the views of younger and less experienced students, employees, family members.  It breeds disconnection and demotivation at least in this relationship.  And like it or not, it breeds disinterest in the subject.

When you listen to them, they listen to you!


Tested and proven many times over… once your audience likes you, you can get away with anything you say or do and learning goes auto-pilot.

As a student, I remember the same subject taught by 2 different teachers… English Literature.  I used to score A1 when I was under Ms A.  Her classes were light, fun… and literature being literature, discussions about a paragraph were open to debate.  Then came Ms B who made us do lots of question and answer activities in a workbook.  And to her, there was only 1 model answer for every question.  There was no discussion.  It totally killed my interest and skewed my still-immature understanding of what literature was.  I didn’t bother to prepare for my exams and was expecting an F9.  Yes, I failed… but was surprised to get D7 because I totally didn’t do what Ms B taught… I just openly debated whatever I could.  I could not debate much because I was not familiar with the literature I was suppose to know by heart before the exams.

As a math teacher (and a rather boring one – even in my own opinion), I had students come up to me and say… “cher, I hate math. but because of you, i will make sure I do well.”  She and he (yes, at least 2 said the same to  me at different times) ended up scoring As almost all the time.  I have no idea what I did.  But they simply liked me and that did the trick.

As an observer of another math teacher, i noticed all he did was have fun in class – I once caught him carrying a broom and dustpan, walking around the classroom teaching math verbally.  Appeared unconventional since the common method is to write a lot of stuff on the board.  I listened and he was hardly teaching math!  He was telling stories!  The students liked him so much and did ok.

Once they like you, learning is auto-pilot!


Ever been in a primary school class where the teacher gives sweets or cute stationary to students?

Ever sat in a lecture theatre where the lecturer offers free movie tickets, free pub tickets, free concert tickets and the students suddenly come awake?

Ever sat in an international conference full of professionals where the speaker gives out free books like “From Good to Great”?

All 3 scenarios have something in common… rewards are given out for participation.  Only the form of the reward is different… suited to the profile of the audience.

Rewards come in all shapes and sizes for people of all shapes and sizes.

If you have always specialised in a certain type of audience and are suddenly asked to manage another audience very different from what you are used to, I hope my sharing will allay any worries you might have.  In my experience, there is not much difference teaching the different groups.  You just need to contextualise and pitch it right.  Pedagogies remain largely similar.

What Does a Learning Designer Do? #learningdesign #instructionaldesign #ISD

Ever seen the terms “Education Specialist”, “Instructional Designer”, “Learning Designer” or the likes?  Ever wonder what they do?

In tiny Singapore, these roles are rather unknown… even to professionals who have the skills to do the job!

Who can become Learning Designers

In my years as a Learning Designer, I have come across 3 types of designers:

  1. One who is a Subject Matter Expert (SME).  This Learning Designer is typically so expert in a specialised field (e.g. wealth management), and has a knack and passion for passing that knowledge to others, that designing courses of his area of expertise comes so naturally.  Such Learning Designers only design courses whereby they are also the Subject Matter Expert.
  2. Another type of Learning Designer is the one who has knowledge of learning sciences, psychology, sociology, education, human development and learning technologies.  Such Learning Designers know what methods are best for learning what types of subjects and for what type of learners.  They are typically trained educators who are Subject Matter Experts in a certain subject as well.  However, their passion for the learning sciences outweigh their passion for a particular subject.  Unlike the 1st type of Learning Designer, the 2nd type of Learning Designers choose to be subject matter-neutral and enjoy designing courses for all types of subjects.
  3. One of the common types of Learning Designers are those who started as multimedia developers creating learning objects (e.g. documentary video) for organisations or schools.  They picked up Learning Design ideas in the process.

No matter how their careers started, when they become Learning Designers, they typically become professionals who are engaged by organisations or schools to design courses to meet certain needs.  Tools used could include learning technologies like Learning Management Systems like Blackboard or authoring tools like Captivate.  For highly customised courses, it could include a larger suite of software like the Adobe Creative Suite or even a larger range of professionals like multimedia designers, programmers, photographers and videographers.  Of course, it could also be as basic as producing a Trainer’s Guide and the Students’ Course Book.  Basic here does not mean that the learning design is basic – it just means that the form of the output is simple (e.g. course books).

Skills, Attitudes and Knowledge Required

Besides knowing about and knowing how to apply learning sciences, Learning Designers need to be good at stakeholder  management, organised, systematic, meticulous.  Having Project Management skills is almost a must.  Working knowledge of various software, technologies and latest trends (e.g. social medial and mobile apps) are also essential to design engaging courses for the learners of today.

A Learning Designer is a type of solution consultant, a practitioner and an information worker.

She cannot be one who simply collects head knowledge but must also be able to face and solve new and unique problems every time.  While theories are important, it is most important that she designs solutions that work.

There must be resourcefulness and resilience to enjoy this job – the same resilience required of any project manager.  Stakeholders can be uncooperative or even downright nasty at times especially when they are unwilling parties involved in the project.  If you are not able to hold your cool (or hold your ground), your projects may not go well.  You must also be resourceful in making things work via alternative means.

What a Learning Designer Does

A Learning Designer works with SME(s), multimedia designers, videographers, photographers, programmers, learning technologists (and possibly others), and is like the nucleus of an atom.  She makes sure that everyone and everything works together.

Many times, SMEs are not instructors and do not have knowledge of the best practices in designing and delivering courses.  The Learning Designer guides them through the process of designing a course.  The Learning Designer starts from the analysis phase where they gather the purpose of the course, review the content, propose pedagogies (e.g. games, TBL, PBL).  She then storyboards the entire course before moving into developing the various elements with other professionals and the SME (e.g. animations, texts, activities, questions, videos).  She conducts editorial checks, quality checks, learning design checks along the way and also at the end to ensure nothing was missed.

Depending on the job contracted, Learning Designers can begin even earlier (e.g. doing Gap Analysis and curriculum design) and deliver even more (e.g. actually conducting, evaluating and refining the course).

Challenges the Learning Designer Faces

The challenges faced by Learning Designers are similar to what any Project Manager of other types of projects faces.  She faces time constraints, manpower constraints, budget constraints, uncooperative SMEs/stakeholders and is yet expected to deliver high quality product covering a wide range of deliverables.

While the Learning Designer does not need to keep abreast of the latest technologies like the IT professionals, she still has to keep up-to-date to a certain extent.  SHe needs to be aware of the latest technologies and their affordances in teaching, training and learning.  There is so much out there and each keeps evolving too.

Pedagogies are also evolving but not as fast as technologies.  So there is some breathing space in this aspect. 🙂