Monthly Archives: August 2014

Instructional Design 101: Content Analysis

Quick: What are the fundamentals of Instructional Design?

In your list, did you include content analysis? So much of the time we’re so intent on figuring out tools, audience needs and evaluation that clear and understandable content is overlooked. Often, the contract work that Brandon and I did would have a large unplanned and un-budgeted component of deciphering content provided by the client. We would often be asked to design instructional materials when the content was both repetitive and incomplete. One such case was a credit card compliance training for managers of fast food franchises. We used the following techniques to make 55+ PowerPoint slides into an effective interactive learning experience.

Read for Purpose

The first read-through of instructional material requires switching between in-depth and surface reading. You’re reading for purpose– as a learner, digesting information and checking for gaps in the material — as a designer, you’re already preparing the best way to parse and re-arrange the material for understanding. This requires both deep concentration on details to ensure you grasp the content, and taking a big picture view to make sure there is an understandable context.

Identify Frameworks

Typically during the first few read-throughs, certain patterns emerge. Hidden within a linear narrative, we identified 8 distinct types of credit card fraud that the manager had to understand. Each type of fraud had a set of consequences, preventative measures, and follow-up procedures. There was a lot of content to grapple with both as a learner and a designer. We constructed tables to house data on fraud type and consequences, and fraud type and preventative measures to ensure that all content was transferred from the narrative content to our game-based activity.

Categorize Content and Identify Outliers

It can take multiple analyses to ensure that a framework accommodates all of content. It may be necessary add more categories, and/or combine others. Sometimes content simply won’t fit inside a framework– sometimes it is extraneous, and therefore excluded, and other times it’s critical for legal or compliance reasons. In this case, we found that securing the restaurant’s computer network was a measure that was useful in preventing only one type of fraud, a data breach. Accordingly, we were to sure to emphasize this measure in the applicable module.

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Identify Repetition and Commonalities

As we looked at the source PowerPoint slides,  we realized that there was a lot of repetition in 3 categories: consequences, preventative measures and steps to follow after an incident. Using tables helped us identify the shared traits AND the dissimilarities. Knowing the commonalities between the fraud types helped us in framing our instructions and influenced our use of predictable structure (discussed below) in making sense of the large amount of content.

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Check in with SMEs

When doing a major re-organization of material, it’s important to ask for clarification and confirmation from your Subject Matter Experts. This is an opportunity to make sure that your assumptions and logical leaps are valid. By checking with the SMEs, we were able to confirm that most of our assumptions were correct, and they provided further helpful clarification. As you’re rephrasing to fit your narrative, you want to ensure that your language is still precise, and in the case of compliance-related instruction, ensure that it’s legally correct.

Use Predictable Structures

Most learners do best when there is some predictable structure that can help them make sense of material. Once we figured out the pattern of the material, we didn’t hide it from the learner. We explicitly structured our material around the pattern that allowed us to understand the complex, multi-step material. Each of the 8 modules described the fraud, gave a brief illustrative story of the fraud to frame context, and presented the consequences and the prevention.

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The same activity was used throughout each module to reinforce the commonalities of the consequences.

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Recognize Limitations

We were hired to do a fun, interactive game, and we delivered. But this was compliance training, and we realized that there were some very important procedural tasks that managers would have to do if they were unlikely enough to encounter fraud. We realized that having them enter a Flash game and hunt for procedures was not the best fit. We created a stand-along document with step by step instructions from corporate. There was no need to force this legal, procedural document into our crime narrative.

I find that a thorough, structural, content analysis allows me to feel confident that I have accounted for all my data, and therefore I can be creative and free when it comes to creating games and the interface.



I love designing and playing games, and I love hosting parties. For a large friends and family party I wanted to design something unique and fun for the guests to do. Just like when I design a learning game, I went through a fluid, yet familiar design process.


  • All-ages play
  • Easy to follow rules
  • Everyone feels successful
  • Play would take about an hour
  • Play would result in exploration of the family property



As I begin a design, I think about 2 major pieces– what are my resources and what should the participant gain. The Joseph Compound is rife with stuff– how could I use it to make a fun experience. I knew that we had tons of partial croquet sets around, but I knew that I didn’t want to play traditional croquet. There was too much structure– turn-based, winning and losing, a standard wicket set-up… It was important to establish that this was nothing like croquet. I took inspiration from the board game Cranium where players would perform different tasks within drawing, singing, acting, etc. As players hit the ball through a wicket, they would perform a fun task that was described with a poem. The task took away the focus on the traditional counting of strokes, and instead focused on the satisfying smacking of the ball by the mallet, strolling about the grounds, and laughing with one another as shared silliness abounded. Without the competitive element, people could opt out of any activity that was uncomfortable to them.

Hole Number Task Materials Needed Notes
1 Wear a Hat Hats! I purposefully began the course with this task. I figured everyone loves a hat, and that this low-stakes entree into the game would allow people to ease into the spirit of the game.
 2  Go Boating  Boats and a body of water photo 3 (1)
 3 Get “Physical”photo 3  Trampoline and Antique Treadmill Olivia Newton John sang it,
“Let’s Get Physical”, she proclaimed it.
Hop on that treadmill with your feet, not your eyes
Jump on that trampoline for some exercise.
 4  Horseshoe ringer Horseshoes set You’ve made it underneath the hornet’s nest.
Don’t worry, they’re long gone, not to molest.
Take a care to each finger.
As you, with a horseshoe, make a ringer.
 5 Easter Egg Hunt  Easter Eggs Rabbits give live birth
That’s why they have such wide girth
They also don’t have a chicken beak
Why then, to them, we ascribe an Easter season hide and seek?
 6  Dribble a ball between your legs Basketball  There’s the basket, here’s the ball
Bounce that sucker tween your legs, don’t you fall
 7  ABCs with your body  Body doll for demonstration  You’re about halfway through the course
Don’t be fussy or too snotty.
We’re not gonna use the code of Morse,
Spell your name using only your body.
 8  Play a musical instrument  assorted musical instruments  In the country you can make a blat
Of a bugle or a drum splat
Loud enough to attract a herd of cow
Bonus points if the coyotes howl
 9  Draw your self-portrait  paper, pencils, markers, clothesline photo 2 (2)
 10  Rock Sculpture  rocks  photo 3 (2)
11  “Archaeological” Dig  broken dishes, hole  photo 5
 12  Junque Sculpture  assorted oddments  Whew, you’ve made it to the highest wicket
Take a moment to enjoy the view, that’s the ticket
Now look around at the plaster, wood and metal parts
Turn it into an arrangement of art
 13  Coin toss  coins, dishes, table photo 1 (1)
 14  Talk to a goat  goats  Do not buy goats only to play EpiCroqueTournament.
 15  Sidewalk drawing chalk, pavement  photo 1 (2)


Over the course of two weekends, about 40 people played EpiCroqueTournament. It exceeded all of my expectations– including getting positive reviews from two of the most demanding critics, my older brother and first cousin, neither of whom are easily satisfied. Players laughed, got engrossed in activities, ventured further afield than the food and drink stations. Some players went on a boat for the first times in their lives.

Lessons I would take away are:

  • Fun and enthusiasm in design translate to the playing experience. I talked up the game in social media, even tho it wasn’t completed. People came ready to play because I was.
  • Editing is ALWAYS good. I deleted several activities which were simply too much work for me, were too complicated to perform or weren’t seeming fun.
  • Use what you have. The particular working parts of EpiCroqueTournament fit into a paper bag. There are a lot of other materials that I brought to the game, but they were mostly already on the landscape. Granted, we’ve got a lot of weird stuff, but I bet you do too.

photo 2