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One of the most memorable learning tools a course designer can create is a good analogy. Finding parallels between something the student finds mysterious and something else the student finds obvious is more art than science. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke the other night on Sixty Minutes made a wonderful analogy between bailing out a misbehaving bank and fighting a fire in your neighbor’s house even though it was caused by his own blatant carelessness, given that the fire could spread to your house and indeed to half the town. Another well-known analogy can be drawn between electricity and water in a pipe, where voltage and current are likened to water pressure and water volume. I have been able to come up with a number of good analogies over the years, but I am currently at a loss to explain how to do it or even where to begin other than inspiration. I invite comments regarding your thoughts on how to create good analogies or examples of other good analogies.


The basic purpose of training is to impart complex knowledge to people who don’t have it. The source of that knowledge is, almost by definition, the Subject Matter Expert, or SME. The job of a training developer is to take information from an SME and create training. The idea that the SME can develop training by virtue of his expertise ignores the skills inherent in training. To understand why this is true, ask yourself why elite athletes in individual sports have personal coaches. If there’s someone who can help Tiger Woods be a better golfer, why isn’t this person out on the tour beating Tiger Woods? Read the rest of this entry »

The secret to creating a good class is to develop it “backwards.” What the student sees first is the PowerPoint slides, then the instructions for the lab, and then the lab itself. Put most of your effort into creating the lab exercise along with an automated script that runs the whole lab. After you have that, insert comments into the script explaining why each operation (step or series of steps) is being performed. At that point, it is possible to translate the lab into a workbook format. Only after the lab and the workbook are done should you create the PowerPoint foils for presentation, based on the lab and workbook. By working “backwards” in this fashion, the class will appear seamless when presented “forwards” (presentation, workbook, example). It all seems to naturally flow together when the student sees it.