About LAS

LAS is an award-winning provider of elearning consultancy, design, development and training services in the UK and internationally. 

Established in 2005 as LearningAge Solutions, we work with some of the best known organisations in the world to boost their performance through the innovative use of learning technologies. Working in partnership with our customers, we draw on proven principles from human behaviour, how people learn and how the brain works to create impactful digital learning solutions with real return on investment.

About Rob Hubbard

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Rob is a designer through and through who is fascinated by how we learn,  what we remember and why we pay attention to certain things. He is a huge enthusiast of all that technology can offer to enhance learning and has completed a huge variety of projects in his 14 year career. 

He is the editor and co-author of The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual published by Wiley and featuring contributions from the brightest and best elearning minds on both sides of the Atlantic.

Which is better – a map or a compass?

by Rob Hubbard
Posted 5 July 2019

When you need to get somewhere / achieve an outcome – which is more useful; a map or a compass?

A map is great when the terrain you need to move through is fixed, or at least not subject to much change. You can see where you are, where you need to get to and what to expect along the way. Sure, there will be obstacles, but you can see what they are well in advance, prepare for them and be ready when you reach them. If you were setting out on such an expedition you would pack only what you need, because you’d have a pretty good idea from the map of what to expect.

A map is a good metaphor for a process. It lays out the steps for achieving a particular outcome. You can use it again and again, and so long as the operational terrain doesn’t change, it’s a reliable approach to take. Processes can be used by inexperienced people, because the process does a lot of the thinking for you.

A compass always points to magnetic north wherever you are, allowing you to know which direction you’re heading in. It won’t tell you where you are, anything about the terrain or what to expect, but it will keep your direction true. To make use of a compass you’ll need a rough idea of the terrain and you’ll need to be more prepared; because you won’t know exactly what to expect.

A compass is a good metaphor for working to principles which guide the approach that you take whatever the environment you find yourself in. Principles will keep you true to your purpose, always heading in the right direction. However, people need to be more experienced to work using principles as more thought needs to be given to how they apply in different situations.

Thinking of the environment we all operate in – it’s certainly not static. When the terrain we must cover is changing in unpredictable ways I would argue that guiding principles (a compass) are more useful than a fixed process (a map).

So how do these metaphors apply to learning design and development?

Many organisations will have robust processes for developing eLearning modules. These are likely to include steps like:
1. Identify the learning outcomes
2. Write / source the content
3. Decide which course templates to use
4. Create the script / storyboard
5. Build the module using the templates
6. Test the module
7. Launch the module

Projects are fed into the process and a few weeks (or months) later; out pops an eLearning module. It’s an efficient way to make an eLearning module, but the trouble is; an eLearning module may not have been the right approach to begin with.

More effective learning teams use design principles to guide their work, starting with an open mind about what the right solution might be. Design principles might include:
● Put the learner at the centre of the design process
● Minimise what we expect learners to retain

Such teams need to be comfortable designing a range of solutions and not be wedded to one approach. They need to be able to work with ambiguity and respond to changing situations by being well prepared.

A good use of time with your team would be to co-create a set of guiding design principles. These should be based on sound UX design principles but also taking account of your culture and the audience. For example; if your audience are highly academic, providing further deeper reading and citing your sources could be important.

There is of course a place for process, but it should not be rigid, blinkered or restrictive. At LAS we try to talk about ‘Workflows’ rather than ‘Processes’. A Workflow is more flexible and is based upon our design principles. They allow space to adapt to create different forms of digital learning solution.

If you can get the right design principles and workflows in place, you’ll be set to take on the journey ahead, whatever the terrain or challenges you encounter.

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