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OLD MOOC WK 3 Activity 1 Spend 10 minutes thinking about the last time you needed to design a learning experience

Every week I ‘design’ a programme of learning when I take, one after the other, four groups of swimmers at my local swimming club.

Some 12 years of doing this, training and CPD means that I no longer prepare a programme in advance, rather I know the stroke and skills we are covering each week and have in my armoury a set of activities. These build from warm-up over 5-8 minutes into a variety of drills tailored to fixing problems with a stroke. The pattern whole-part-whole is used – to swim the stroke, spot problems, then put in a series of drills and exercises, typically involving only the legs or only the arms – as in ‘part’. There are then advance ‘whole swim’ drills and any number of complementary fun activities. Diving or racing typically ends the session.

Often I draw on sets of images from ‘The Swimming Drill Book’ to show swimmers poolside what I want them to do – so a sequence of actions or a particular arm, body or leg position. Used in this way these sets of images can become like a set of cards that can be placed in whatever order I feel is appropriate as we go along.

Planning a programme of work for a squad is akin to creating a curriculum that runs from September through to the competitions season that runs through the Spring and Summer.

Creating e-learning for corporate clients – compliance on health and safety, data protection, graduate induction and so on, might follow a remarkably similar pattern.

The ‘warm up’ is an introduction, ideally something to grab their attention. Headliners on the banking crisis, a news piece on a data protection scandal, a criminal banged up (CPS induction) or a young person (actor) having an asthma attack. Like the swimming session these modules typically run for an hour, so 12 modules at five minutes each isn’t unusual. There will be introductions to themes and ideas, following by activities to check learning or integrating an activity with fact finding.

It isn’t all online – learners might have to figure something out on paper and then return to the screen.

It may also be personalised, so going into the system to generate something like a holiday request as per the instructions in the learning activity. Whilst the swimmer is observed and various skills checked off, in the e-learning experience the ticks relate to an activity successfully completed. This is not always linear, sometimes it is more exploratory, or can be done out of sequence, but the goal is to get everything done and demonstrate knowledge. At some stages a follow up set of questions will be issues to keep the information fresh.

The outcome is primary – what are you trying to achieve.

It is either state bluntly or apparent from the activities that day.

GOAL – To ensure that all swimmers keep their hands in front of their shoulders when swimming competitive breaststroke.

GOAL – To ensure that all graduate lawyers starting with the CPS can visualise a file as a defendant/law breaker – a person on whom all kinds of institutions and other people impact as their case comes to trial.

I have always used a communications industry brief to spec out the project and to help focus on the ideas that are required. On a single sheet of paper respond to the following:

  • What is the problem?
  • Who are you speaking to?
  • What do you want to say?
  • How do you want them to respond to this?
  • What else do we need to know?

In Swimming ideas come from formal courses, from colleagues, from resources online and books. You see something that works, so you give it a go. You show what appears to be an intractable problem with others and they offer a solution.

In e-learning the ideas are developed in a lengthy workshop – the client(s) and several team members strip down the creative brief, draw on the knowledge of an experience L&D manager at the client end, may include a subject matter expert, but certainly includes a learning designer and project manager. Flip charts and post-it notes are used.

A number of creative problem solving or idea generating activities can also be used – moderating and leading techniques compiled, trialed and explained by VanGundy, for example.

Marker pens on large sheets of paper – typically on sheets of A1 Flipchart paper – sometimes these are taped together.

My personal preference is for wallpaper backing paper as the long strips mean that people around a table can all contribute. These sessions need to be carefully choreographed … and at various points the outcomes stated, written down so that everyone can see and agreed.

Once done the Learning Designer takes it all away and compresses it into a form that can be shared digitally – typically a PowerPoint, with the warning that this should not imply a strict linear expression of the learning. Other programmes can be used, usually something built by the agency or a licensed commercial product.

Other learning experiences I have ‘designed’ – linear and interactive video to support facilitated learning, run to some 50. These followed a far less collaborative process of taking a brief, brainstorming ideas alone … sometimes using an interactive tool called ‘Ideafisher’ then producing a synopsis, treatment and script. When other professionals come in to produce the learning the design stage is complete. For interactive learning the video is scripted as a number of components that are an integral part of the learning journey.

REFERENCE

Guzman, R (2007) The Swim Drills Book

Herd, C., Bentley, J., Morrison, D., Earnshaw,M., Haines,B., Woodford,S., Hooper,M., Lancaster,G., Knox.S., Nebel,A., Doyle,A., Bishop.A. (2003) The Client Brief – A best practice guide to briefing communications agencies – Joint industry guidelines for young marketing professionals in working effectively with agencies. Copyright by ISBA and CAF, representing the IPA, MCCA and PRCA (last accessed 9 Jan 2013 http://www.apra.cz/data/dokumenty/PRCA-The_Client_Brief-Full_Guidelines.pdf)

VanGundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd ed., Van Norstrand Reinhold.

What is learning design?

Learning design, indeed any design, is about problem solving. If there isn’t a problem there is nothing to do.

No need to create learning, to advertise, to change, to brainstorm … recognise the problem then resolve to fix it. If this requires problem solving techniques just to get the scope of the problem, or objective set down, so be it. Then set about solving the problem, not shoehorning a response whether it is e-learning, video, a job description … but looking for the best, most appropriate or right way forward.

E-learning is no panacea.

There are still leaflets, workshops, conferences … Then research, write and agree a creative brief.

Then cost, schedule and build your team.

Then get on with it.

You might end up with the equivalent of a chair, a house or a small town … but it is fundamentally problem solving.

The Mortality of ideas

When someone says something that you find profound it sticks with you for life; I was reminded of an invaluable lesson while studying the ‘Creativity, Innovation & Change‘ elective module of The OU MBA (while actually taking the MA in Open & Distance Education).

At a IPA event at the CBI I attended a lecture given by Winston Fletcher in which he talked about how ideas can be killed off by ‘forces’ in and advertising agency and at the client end. He illustrated this with a poster showing a series of light bulbs slowly going out. There was a refrain also that ended:

‘If the client proves refactory, show a picture of their factory.

And should they put on airs and graces, show a picture of their faces’.

Which sums up regional advertisers showing the proud owner of a widget factory standing outside his widget factory, rather than showing off the benefits of the product. 

Once a ‘good idea’ has been hatched, by whatever process, intuitively or through considerable thought and development, the thing can gradually die a death as various departments and stakeholders get their hands on it.

It therefore requires a champion, someone to see it through, who is persuasive and persistent, who can shift from playfulness to power games.

Like Steve Jobs perhaps? (who I have written about extensively in my OU Student Blog).

That or you need someone to do it for you; writers have agents, creatives in advertising have the accounts team.

Creative Problem Solving Techniques

24/12/2012

Problem, opportunity, challenge, issue, concern …

I’ve been professionally lodged in calling everything a problem to be solved. I may think this through and stick to this concept. I was introduced to the Creative Brief at JWT, London in the mid 1980s. Through Design & Art Direction (D&AD) workshops, then a year, full-time at the School of Communication Arts the ‘problem’ as the preferred, indeed the only term, was reinforced.

The advertising Creative Brief goes:

What is the problem?

What is the opportunity?

Who are you speaking to?

What do you want to say?

How do you want them to react to this message?

What else do you need to know?

I have seen no reason to change this, indeed some 135+ video productions later, information films, training films, change management, product launch, lecture, you name it … the same set of questions, answered on a SINGLE SIDE of A4 governs the initial client meetings. If we cannot get it onto a single sheet, then we haven’t the focus to deliver a clear response. Back to the drawing board.

It works.

From the agreed Creative Brief I then write a synopsis or two, the ideas are shared and I go off and prepare a treatment or two; I offer alternatives. Then, with agreement on the treatment, based always on how well it lives up to the brief, I go off and write a script. Sometimes the script is visualisation and dialogue (voice over, interviews transcripts even dramatisation), usually very little needs to be changed at this stage; the script is a direct expression of what was agreed in the treatment. We then produce (shoot, post-produce) and review the end result. Once again, a fail-safe process that only sees the product improved upon at each stage.

It works.

So why is this page of this chapter an Epiphany?

I guess, because I know that some clients struggle with the term ‘problem’. I stubbornly refuse to accept an alternative and argue my case. Yet apparently there is a case. Or is there? VanGundy (1988) rightly suggests that

p18 ‘Each of these different terms expresses its own metaphor for what is involved and suggests its own slightly different ways of working’. Henry et al. (2010:18)

To be a problem there needs to be a ‘gap’ between what is desired and the current position. VanGundy (1988:04)

Why would I change what has always worked?

When I bring with my argument decades of experience from the most successful, persuasive and memorable communicators of all? This ‘Creative Brief is an industry standard.

My view is that if there isn’t a problem, there is no need to do x, y or z. Anything less than ‘problem’ diminishes the nature and ambition of the communications challenge (here I argue that internal and external communications, PR, marketing and advertising, are all on the same spectrum: you are trying to persuade people).

Think of problems and solutions as part of an extended hierarchy.

We then get into ‘Gap Analysis’

p19 ‘The imperative that drives creative people can transform the theoretical ‘what could be’ into a more powerfully motivating ‘what should be’.

Then drift away from the challenge when the ‘problem’ is no longer (in my view of things) considered a communications issue.

p24 The problem exists in the overlap between ourselves and the situation … this means that solutions can often be as much a mater of changing ourselves as changing the external situation’.

  1. Change the situation
  2. Change yourself
  3. Get out
  4. Learn to live with it

As an external supplier, a communications problem fixer, then only point 1 can apply, which becomes an argument for the extensive use of external suppliers. Think about it, do you want someone to address the problem/challenge you take to them, or shilly-shally about, making do, dodging it or making themselves absent?

p26 ‘Play’ – the dynamic gap between vision and reality.

Activity 2.1 (p16)

Frustration over having an audio-cassette to listen to. By sharing the problems it was resolved.

Cause: keeping up with the technology

Ans: A problem shared is a problem halved. Ease of relationships.

p17 ‘A densely interconnected part of a huge web of issues and concerns that change and develop over time and may transform radically in appearance depending on your viewpoint’.

Spend a few minutes identifying some of the features of this story that might perhaps generalise to other situations and that:

  • helped to generate the challenge
  • helped to overcome it.

Solving ‘problems’ however, is not as clear-cut as a specific problem relate to communications.

I need more of VanGundy. Is he free from the OU Library? Or even an not too expensive download as an eBook to the Kindle and iPad. Despite admonitions to spend less time reading and more time addressing the practical side of Block 2, I feel I have to read on, to investigate an issue (oops, problem, I mean) that has bugged me for more than 25 years.

REFERENCE

Henry, J., Mayle, D., Bell, R., Carlisle, Y. Managing Problems Creatively (3rd edn) 2010. The Open University.

VanGundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of structured problem solving (2nd edn), New York: Van Nostran Reinhold.

Understanding the practicalities of learning design for learning online

PART ONE

This is how I develop a Creative Brief … this happens to be an MAODE exercise on Learning Design.

As a video producer this is the idea I’d sell to the client.

I’d then work with a coach and group of swimmers to set the scene and milk it.

This is the kind of thing corporate clients use to teams of 10,000 employees. This is also how I go about writing scripts, sometimes adding drawings, cut-outs from magazines and photos. Nothing hi-tech at the thinking stage … which gives people more freedom to contribute.

A whiteboard marker pen on unforgiving wallpaper backing paper (30p a roll in from the reduced bin!). Stuck to the kitchen door.

PART TWO

The Forum Thread deserves as Swim lane of its own with as much activity into it and Elluminate as I have put here into a blog/microblog.

Often I find a dedicated thread such as e-Learning Professionals is more likely to guarantee a response to something I say; the reason for this is simple, they have thousands of active members.

There are reliable statistics to say what tiny per centage of people are happy to write, read, comment and contribute. 1% to write, about 4% to comment. This has to be reflected in forum activity too, however much it is required by the course. I’ve missed out blogs other students keep, and the links back and forth to these.

You’d be surprised how much goes on in the background.

I’ve found myself working things through with people in different tutor groups, who did the module a year ago … or who have nothing to do with MAODE but have an answer. Which reminds me of the fantastic diagram drawing tool dia. How does Naughton’s journalistic point of view compare to those of an academic?

I worked through it alone, blogged about it and offered thoughts and replied in the tutor forum.

The degree or blogging I’ve put forward reflects what I consider an invaluable addition to taking part in Forum Threads. You express what you think, ‘stream of consciousness’ into your own blog, edited to140 character for Twitter than take part in a Forum where some back and forth discussion should come about.

The other invaluable form of participation is through a conference call – as Jonathan Swift said, ‘I don’t know what I mean until I have heard myself speak.’

This is akin to a treatment outline for a video. The script in our case is the ad-libs and verbatim responses of student and input from the tutor. I like the idea of swim-lines and can imagine the Tutor online as a coach, rather than a subject matter expert, as a guide and mentor.

The reality is that such rapport develops with fellow students.

It is a shame that there isn’t more continuity through your original cohort. I have used the Compendium to share projects, using the layers to attach documents and have another contribute. For a simple mind map I like bubbl.us, otherwise I’m as likely to do a sketch and photograph it to share … or draw directly into a paint/draw package such as ArtPad using a stylus and Wacom board. Like all tools you need to have a clear use for it, rather than playing in a sandpit. To be able to collaborate in a team people need to be familiar with and using the same software/platforms.

Compendium can be used as a basic mind-map or flow chart and with experience be used for much more, as an e-portfolio of sorts.

It is overly prescriptive. Tools need to be intuitive and follow common practices regarding buttons and outcomes. For a first draft I prefer marker pen on paper, followed by bubbl.us.

As Beetham’s Chapter 2 (Activity 2) points out learners will find their own way through a task regardless. We understand things differently, draw on different experiences and come up with our own metaphors.

Whilst I go with the ‘Swim Lanes’ analogy, I often think the reality is like a Catherine-wheel nailed to a post in the rain.

Should an exercise such as this be addressed in a way that has so scientific connotations? It is surprising how easy it is to share the narrative of a linear activity in a multitude of ways. A simple set of numbered bullet points, perhaps worked up as a presentation. As a board game, one step taken at a time. Or a set of activity cards. You can talk it through by counting five activities off on your fingers. I’ll do one of these in the truly, joyful, brilliant www.bubbl.us and post it to my ou blog and extracurricular blog’ ‘My Mind Bursts’ which in turn is fed to Twitter ‘jj27vv.’

Make one of these mind maps, then change your mind and be tickled with the way the ‘node’ or ‘bubbl’ behaves . Go see! This and a list of wonderful tools from an H808 student who is a primary school teacher in Thailand. Work should be fun, especially learning design. After all, if you don’t enjoy it, how do you expect your future students to behave?

PART THREE

Bubbl.us has gone from toy to a grown up tool with layers and the opportunity to add sound, images (stills and moving) and no doubt much more, none of which I have had time to try.

The old bubbl.us was like playing with kid’s party balloons and when you deleted a balloon (or node) it blew up and burst into flames. This new version still does some magic to the eye, fading away like a mist, also when you save melting into the background like a rainbow of ice melting.

An extraordinary delight to the senses and apparently of far more practicle use than I credited it with a few months ago.

 

 

Click on this and it takes you to Picassa Dropbox. You can then enlarge it, save the code and help yourself. I think all the images I’ve put into this OU identify album is ‘open to the public.’

Seeing this all again I am reminded of my inspiration David McCandless.

By working on this a few more times an art director or designer would turn it into a thing of beauty; it is this level of inspiration that sells ideas to committees, colleagues and others.

People buy into ideas. People like to be inspired.

The pedagogy must of course be sound, the right offering of activities, outcomes and learner flexibility and support is the OU magic mix.

P.S. Don’t imagine I was familiar with any of these tools until I started the MAODE in Feb 2010, most of everything I now use I was introduced to by someone here.

PART FOUR

Adding the role of the Tutor.

Is this a model or an expression of what took place?

At what point, by adding Tutor engagement, and then picking out individuals in relation to their tutor group forum participation do you make assumptions?

A questionnaire would elicit the facts.

At some point the complexity of the activity shown diminishes the ease at which the chart is interpreted.

 

I’d replaced the imploring ‘HAVE FUN!’ with the more germane ‘ENGAGE!’ i.e. take part, I say this because debate and discussion may not be fund with a smile.

Often I liken a session that spins out of control as a Catherine-Wheel nailed to a post that fizzles and falls … or winds down. Some activities can be like this, ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

They tend to be the most fulfilling, where everyone in the group takes part. Or at least SIX on a regular basis to give the thing some spin.

Failure to participate is the killer; with it an activity can be a wild success, drawing people in, urging them to take part. Without them you are on your own ‘with your books and your thoughts.’

The reality of distance learning online is a bit of both, the trick is to be able to engage and disengage with reasonable flexibility, not feeling guilty whether you are quiet for a period or when you are ever-present.

The role of the tutor is a tricky one

Mentor and coach, or subject matter expert? Institutional insider to guide? Overseer? Absent landlord? Marker? Assessor? Animateur?

The role is changing. It will be as different as it is in the ‘real’ world from the one-to-one private tutor, or the ‘gang master’ running 60 students via pre-recorded video lecture. Customers, as students can call themselves with greater validity if they are paying significant sums, will be demanding.

‘Change is all around us’.

(Sung to the tune of Wet, Wet, Wet’s ‘love is all around us’).

PART FIVE

Get in a designer and make it a thing of information beauty.

Sell it internally and externally.

Schedule, produce.

Watch what happens and adjust accordingly.

Lecture notes on line. How? Best Practice?

Migrating content to the web

Learning what I am doing I have been approached by two academics who would like advice on how to migrate content to the web to support their students, both are heavy hitters. Their apparently being somewhat behind the times ought not to tarnish their professionalism as educators; one is a professor in a faculty of law, the other a retired Oxford philosopher and political scientist.

For a decade now I have tried to imagine how the contents of a person’s brain might be saved, not just the content, but how they value and use it, including some kind of artificial intelligence so that should or when (inevitably) they die, or simply lose their faculties or retire, their life’s work can live on.

We know that simply putting stuff online doesn’t work.

I recall with pain being told to migrate the content of an extensive and rich interactive multimedia learning experience from a CD-rom to the web, none of the affordance of the web were to be given consideration, other than ‘having it out there.’ Video clips, this is 1998, were reduced to a snap shot (not streaming), and much of the interactivity was lost. i.e. it was reduced to a series of cascading pages, no better than a catalogue or at best a slide show. Over a decade later the Internet works best where it plays to its unique strengths, which must include thinking how it will improve and change much more.

How therefore, beyond a podcast and lecture notes, do I go about this task?

In the case of the Oxford don he has hundreds, thousands of books and paper and stacked three rows deep to the ceiling of rooms and corridors. Like a fairytale orphan confronted with a gargantuan task that can never be completed there is a feeling that every must count. I suspect that the only way in will be to interview this gentleman at length and use this as a way in, even go on a guided tour of the ‘contents of his brain.’ His is a journey coming to an end.

In the case of the professor in law the journey is just beginning, this is a path she will travel herself.

Do I therefore arm her with some of the basic tools to go down the DIY route?

Might it start with something as simple as a blog populated with lecture notes?

Or given the tendency for blogs to be a tad informal, might an e-portfolio be the answer?

Surely her faculty has a well-established policy and support network by now.

The degree to which academics behave like and are treated like boffins who only function in isolation surprises me. Their lack of commercial savvydoesn’t surprise me.

Their motivation isn’t financial, it is recognition and reputation.

Though this should not be a reason to encourage them to empty the contents of their brains online for anyone to exploit it as they see fit (or unfit).

My approach will be that of a professional communications consultant, someone whose tasks is quite simple.

What is the immediate problem that needs to be addressed?

We have to start somewhere, even if it is nothing more than the last paper they published, or the first.

What is the opportunity?

In their eyes what do they hope or expect to achieve and having discussed it with me, what do they consider to be the best outcome? Who are we talking to? (or teaching, or engaging, or impacting …)

In the case of the Oxford don, ‘everything online for everyone to exploit’ would be akin to building a match-stick model of the Eiffel Tower with chopsticks. The task would never end. Parameters must be set. A good beginning, will lead to a pleasant, potentially constructive and even valuable journey.

What is the message?

What are we trying to say?

And what do we want this audience to take from this? If they are students the completed essays or assignments of the best pupils these academics have taught (if we even have the rights to publish such work), serves no purpose – our interest is in the learning journey, not someone else’s journey’s end.

How do we want them to respond to this message?

See how it is message in the singular. However high the pile of papers, or however full the folder with documents, I want both to think in terms of single learning objects, taken one a time, rather than volumes of material.

To create connectivity between resources they need to be appropriately weighed, assessed, reversioned or multi-versioned and tagged. One at a time.

What do they say, in their words, about this asset or object?

What do we expect them to say?

Hear them speak. Something that is achievable, ultimately, through comment, feedback and evaluation. For now we must use our powers of imagination, we should put words into their mouths, suppose the best outcome.

And finally, kept to a few sentences or bullet points, bearing in mind the focus we require, ‘what else do we need to know.’

Not background notes, not ‘everything,’ but specifically, based on decisions already made by answering the questions above.

And then?

Make a start. Put something out there. It may be nothing more than a drop of ink in the digital ocean, an air-rifle shot into cyberspace, but it’s a start.

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