Demystifying Instructional Design

S3E3: Mindsmith ~ Simple is beautiful

January 02, 2023 Rebecca J. Hogue Season 3 Episode 3
Demystifying Instructional Design
S3E3: Mindsmith ~ Simple is beautiful
Show Notes Transcript

Mindsmith is an AI-powered microlearning authoring tool built for the average user. They focus on intuitive interfaces and collaboration that empowers anyone to create beautiful elearning lessons/trainings, whether you are a manager of a small team, a full-time instructional designer, or a busy college professor.

Their BookerAIᵝ features enable users to overcome writer's block and the intimidation of starting lessons from scratch. Currently, users can generate outlines, individual cards, or large sections of multiple cards. In the future, users will be able to generate full lessons from scratch or upload their current pdfs/powerpoints to generate content.

In this episode I have a conversation with: Ethan Webb (Head of Product), Zack Allen (Chief Technology Officer), and Christy Graves (Head Designer).

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Rebecca Hogue:

Welcome to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview various instructional designers to figure out what instructional designers do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider subscribing or leaving a comment on the show Notes blog post and consider helping to support the podcast with a donation to my Patreon account. This interview is not an endorsement of the product one way or the other. Please see this episode as a learning opportunity for both myself as interviewer and the founders of Mindsmith. We would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment in the show notes at Demystifying Instructional Design dot com. Today I've got some special guests. I'm talking to the founders of Mindsmith. Can you please introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about Mindsmith.

Ethan:

Hi, my name's Ethan. I'm the head of product at Mindsmith. We all met through a program at Brigham Young University called the Sandbox Program. We're in the second cohort. It's a tech startup incubator. So this is a really neat program where we just get tons of school credit for starting a tech company. Although it sounds like we're just in it for a couple of semesters, we're actually in it for the long haul. When we started as a team, we decided that this is something that we wanted to be all in on. And as we've grown and as we have interviewed people and grown as a company, we've realized that instructional design is where we want to be. We started out in the higher ed space. We wanted to create a tool for teachers that made creating dynamic and interactive lessons much more easy and just incredibly intuitive for teachers to pick up. But we realized that a lot of the problems that teachers face are also faced by people all around the world. So anyone that wants to create a lesson has a hard time learning the current authoring tools for instructional designers. Really, the only tools available to them right now are things like PowerPoint, which don't allow for any sort of interactive content or best practices and pedagogy. We see ourselves as democratizing instructional design, bringing instructional design to the masses. Like I said, I'm Ethan, Head of Product.

Zach:

I'm Zach. I'm head of development here at Mindsmith.

Christy:

And I'm Christy. I'm in charge of design and UX design.

Ethan:

We've listened to your podcast a little bit, Rebecca, but let's hear an intro from you. Who are you? Where did you find your passion for instructional design?

Rebecca Hogue:

I'm an instructional designer and an instructor of instructional design. I teach instructional design at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. I found instructional design when I was initially laid off. I started my career in computer science as a quality assurance person, which was great. Loved it. But right up until Y2K. And then, of course, the tech bust happened. And when the tech bust happens, I lost my job and I had an opportunity to really reflect on what I was doing and realize that even though I was working in quality assurance and then in product management, I realized that what I was doing all the time was education and teaching customers and doing adult education and more than adult education -- professional education. I was teaching, I worked for a telecom company. I was teaching people how to use the telecom equipment. And in my explorations of that, I discovered that really what I was doing was instructional design. And so I claimed the title of instructional designer. I went back to school and did a master's, and that really helped me make a career transition. I haven't looked back since. I love helping create content. I've worked for a variety of different companies and done instructional design in the context of health care, but also in the context of cryptography. Wow. And corporate. Yeah, like a whole variety of different areas. But at the moment, I'm really enjoying creating courses and doing stuff in the higher ed space. Can you tell us a little bit about how your product works? What problem does it solve for me?

Ethan:

Yeah, that's a great question. Mindsmith. was born out of wanting to create a product that was easy for teachers, like we mentioned teachers and professors to pick up and start using. We found that as we learned about the current tools, the instructional design tools out there, things like Articulate, things like Storyline, Captivate, even like the more modern ones, like Chameleon or some of these other more newer instructional design authoring tools that they all have long tutorial cycles. And the teachers that we were interviewing didn't have time to do those tutorials or learn how to use these tools. And so what they were doing instead was outsourcing any of the learning to their instructional design departments, who then take a long time to build. And it's this whole back and forth that's a real headache for teachers when they just want to build the courses themselves. So we're like, okay, let's be the sort of Canva of instructional design. Let's make it just so intuitive to create a course that anyone can pick it up and start. And so that's where we are with teachers. And like I said, we've transitioned more recently into the private sector as well, helping companies like A Ramen House train their employees on front of house best practices and things like that. Yeah, so that's part of the problem we solve is just like being intuitive. There are also like other smaller problems in instructional design tools. Authoring tools like accessibility has been a big one that we didn't know about going into the space. But people like instructional designers have told us time and time again, most tools are hard to make fully accessible, and that doesn't make any sense. We also found that as we learned about pedagogy and trends in instructional design, like cognitive load theory is a huge thing. Like how are people processing information like for students? We're given log textbook chapters, readings like we're given PowerPoint slides and we don't engage with that content. Like I'm an econ major and pretty much every class I have textbook assignments and I have never done them because they're just like way too much. I don't learn. From them. And same with like corporate, like trainings are often long, long trainings in person, or sometimes there are PowerPoints as well. And so we're like, okay, what is solving this problem of long form learning is not the best way of learning. And this this trend is in microearning as well. So we're like, how do we appeal to the modern student? How do we appeal to the way that people actually learn? And that's where we've had our focus on microlearning as well, has been a really important thing for us. So just, yeah, taking these huge concepts and breaking them up into bite sized pieces.

Rebecca Hogue:

One of the things I actually quite like is, is the microlearning but not just that. Like you're not just creating it. The product that...the learning that you output works on any device. So it's not.

Ethan:

Yes. Yeah. And that's how we do with like companies like Seven Taps, like they're mobile first, but they're mobile only and it's, it doesn't make any sense because people learn in all sorts of different environments and like we are mobile first in the way that like when you are editing a lesson, it looks like a phone viewer so they know what it looks like for the phone people, but you can send it out and it yeah, automatically fits any sort of screen, whether it's an iPad, iPhone, Excel or, I don't know, a Microsoft Zune, it doesn't matter. And it's really important to have that versatility in an authoring tool for sure.

Rebecca Hogue:

You mentioned that you had some questions for me, so why don't we just turn this over to you for a little bit?

Ethan:

We wanted to ask our first question on the lines of where we're talking right now about authoring tools and the changes in the space. What would you change about current authoring tools? What are some of your biggest hangups about what is out there aside from Mindsmith?

Rebecca Hogue:

Pricing and not looking old. So what I can get access to for free typically is h5p. I can do stuff in h5p It looks very dated, right? So quite often the stuff that produces that are there, if I want to make it look more modern, I have to do a lot of CSS and a lot of changing of things to make it look more modern. Sometimes simple is beautiful and being able to do that is one of the things I don't like. There's this interesting balance because I also want to be able to get behind the scenes sometimes, but that's because I'm a pretty technical person and so I want to be able to sometimes add some JavaScript or sometimes usually it's tweaking CSS. I do that more than anything else. I need it to look a particular way. How do I make it look that way? I'm actually doing a bunch of work in WordPress right now, and I find it interesting that understanding CSS is what's needed in order to understand how the different things format in WordPress, so they're not playing to either audience, right? They don't have the WSYWIG audience of make it easy, make it simple, just let me click a couple buttons. Make it look like a word processor, Right?

Ethan:

Right.

Rebecca Hogue:

Or you need to understand the CSS in order to understand what all of the different configurations are. So if you don't understand how CCS works, then you know you don't understand what the different options are.

Ethan:

Yeah, it's like the worst of both worlds. Yeah.

Christy:

Yeah.

Ethan:

We've encountered a similar thing in that we're using WebFlow right?

Christy:

Yeah.

Ethan:

And that's very similar where it's like it feels like it should be plug and play.

Christy:

I have very limited CSS/HTML knowledge and so it's not good for either party. It's not great for people who want to stick with code. And it's not great for people who don't know anything about code.

Ethan:

Yeah, so we want to appeal to your very your average user. You like base user, although we do have in the pipeline. So we're still pretty new. We soft launched in October, so it's been two months and we're thinking like maybe we do want to be robust enough that your instructional design professional will use us as the go to. And so we're like, how do we... do we toggle Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced mode? Do we hide features somewhere? where only an instructional designer would know or care to look for them because I think there are ways to to do it in both worlds. Like initially we are going into and it's like kind of you're either or either you are WYSIWYG and super simple, super basic or you're robust and have these different tools and features. And we're like, we don't have to fit that. There are there can be ways to appeal to both crowds. And so that's what we're thinking through right now, especially on stuff, is like, how do we how do we appeal to both groups of people? So yeah, stay tuned for all you technical people who are like want the CSS and want to do some coding on your lessons. Probably within the next few months we'll be doing some updates that allow for more versatility. Yes. So I guess we have another question for you. Zach, do you want to ask the next one?

Zach:

You've been doing all these interviews. You've talked to a lot of interesting people in this space of instructional design. What have been your greatest insights, like the best takeaways from them?

Rebecca Hogue:

One of the biggest takeaways I've had has been that it doesn't matter what what sector you're in. A lot of the things that we do are the same. So whether you're in the corporate sector or whether you're in higher ed, your job descriptions may look very different. But the processes that you follow and a lot of the concepts that we do as instructional designers are precisely the same.

Ethan:

I love that. I wanted to add on to what you were talking about just now, about how many similarities there are between the different types of instructional designers, because we found the same thing like some of our advisors. They're not like instructional design professionals, but they were like, Maybe you shouldn't try to do both. Maybe you shouldn't try to do higher ed instructional designers and professors as well as corporate people. And the more we've learned it's the same features. Maybe a higher ed instructional designer will need an equations feature or something, which we have built for our professors and then very simple equations. But other than that, it's like it's the same stuff and instructional design principles.

Rebecca Hogue:

I can see certain corporate worlds that might need that. If I think back to one of the people I've interviewed recently, Darlesa Cahoon. She works at the Seattle airport and has to train everybody. And so sometimes that math might actually be part of what she has to teach, right. And so giving a tool to allow her to create a course that she can then roll out on the phone or roll out on a tablet or any device that's really valuable for her, because in her world, she has to really pay attention. And that's another sort of interesting thing, really pay attention to who the student is and what the student needs. What is the what are the things that not just what the instructor needs in order to put it in, but what does the student need in order to digest? And again, that's another one of those core things. When we do analysis and instructional design, we ask the question, who are our students? What are the characteristics? What do we need to know about the students in order to be effective at creating training material?

Ethan:

And one of the things I love about, like the idea of democratizing instructional design is that if you have the people building lessons, be the ones who interact with those people on a daily basis, like it solves so many of the problems that instructional designers deal with every day. If your manager is collaboratively building a lesson with the instructional designer on staff, then they can add those elements that are unique to their learners that they know like very intimately. And the instructional designer. It seems like previously you have to do like these very long interviews and learn about... try to get into the manager or the leaders' shoes or point of view, whereas let's just bring them to the table, have them work collaboratively, put them on the lesson; let them edit things and give input more directly rather than just back and forth like this interview thing. And then the instructional designer has to like, synthesize it in some way and then put it back in and let's just work together on this. Yeah. So that's another thing that that we really encourage is collaboration. So sharing lessons in between. It's like sharing a Google doc. It's just super easy and two people can work on it at the same time. Why are we still sending out static lessons, back and forth between even our SCORM files update automatically as a lesson is done. And so it's it's very cloud based and collaborative is a really important feature of us as well.

Rebecca Hogue:

So that's actually an interesting point. So if I create my microlearning lesson, I can then add a second author is that...?

Ethan:

Yeah.

Rebecca Hogue:

And directly collaborate. Yeah, that's actually a feature that a lot of tools don't have. They make it very difficult.

Ethan:

It's surprising. Why are we sending uneditable versions of things like, especially, I don't know, professors and their instructional design departments. They hate it, but they have to like they want to edit one thing and it's like I have to send an email to my department and they have to get on their thing and then ship it back and it's this whole thing. So yeah, just make it cloud-based.

Rebecca Hogue:

Do you want to talk a little bit about your sort of SCORM package? You mentioned SCORM. How does that work and how is that different from what other people do?

Ethan:

Yeah at Mindsmith we're able to support all of the common learning standards like XAPI, CMI5 and SCORM, the different versions of SCORM. And we're able to do this like very simply and really elegantly by allowing essentially the package that gets exported is just a link and a little interface to our product. And so it just sends over the necessary data and then everything that - the whole course and all of that - still gets loaded from the source of truth which is your kind of Google doc published version.

Rebecca Hogue:

Okay, so the version in essence loads from what's on your Mindsmith site So I can just log in to my site and if I edit my lesson, the lesson that my students see just gets updated. I don't have to go to my LMS and I need to reexport and then import again to get it to update in the elements that aren't to worry about versions from that perspective.

Ethan:

Exactly. Yeah. And you can always, like, make copies. And so you can have your old versions if you're interested. And probably in the future we'll do publish buttons so it doesn't automatically update if you're not ready to publish it or something. But that's how it works currently. Yeah, it's just authored in the cloud.

Rebecca Hogue:

And where do people go to access your tool?

Zach:

Yeah. So Mindsmith is always, will always have, a free forever plan. You can just go to Mindsmith dot org up a free account.

Ethan:

Yeah. It'll take you to another site app.Mindsmith.org but... Yeah, that's it. Just go to our website and you can learn about us and learn about what we're doing.

Rebecca Hogue:

And give it a try. Cool.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Rebecca Hogue:

Before I ask my last question, are there other questions you want to ask me?

Ethan:

Yes, Christy has one.

Christy:

Yeah. You've probably mentioned this on previous podcasts but I'm in UX design and it's new from the past 15-20 years. And so I get a lot of people asking me, like, what is that? And I feel like it's the same for instructional design. So it's not as well known. So how would you describe instructional design to someone who doesn't know what it is?

Rebecca Hogue:

That's a great question. I ask a lot of the people I interview. What's your elevator pitch? What? How do you describe instructional design? I talk about how it's adult based learning and specifically creating training materials or creating learning experiences for adults and not within the K to 12, not typically within the K-12 system, which is actually interesting because where instructional design is in higher ed. So it is in formal education, but it's also in the corporate world. And so it depends on who's asking me what their background is, because I'm trying to find out in other one of those cognitive theories, I'm trying to figure out what they already know so I can give them an example that ties in to what they know. Right? So if they understand higher ed, I'm going to give them an example of, Oh yeah, I work with professors to help professors develop better courses because a lot of professors are not trained on how to teach. And so I can go in as the expert educator but not the expert in their field and help them create better courses. But if I'm talking to somebody who works at Starbucks, for example, I can talk about their new hire training and when they first started and learned how to make the different things while somebody designed that, actually one of my students was designing that the other day, how to teach the baristas and what they need to know for different things. And so there's a context everywhere for learning. And so it's really about understanding how people learn and how to create opportunities or experiences to help encourage that learning or support that learning.

Christy:

Wow. Thank you. That's like, that's it's cool to see how you can look at people's backgrounds and explain to their understanding.

Ethan:

It requires an experienced instructor.

Zach:

That's hard to come up with on the spot, but it's cool. I do have one. One more question that I'm curious about. I know that you've asked a lot in the past to your guests like how do you see the future of instructional design or how do you see instructional design changing? I'm curious, like, what do you see as the biggest challenges to the instructional design field in the future? Like moving forward.

Rebecca Hogue:

Challenges? That's a great question. One of the challenges I see is the lack of credibility in the profession. It's a particular challenge within the profession because we, for example, don't have a certifying body. And without that certifying body, it means that people have different definitions of what... If you ask somebody what a goal is, an instructional goal. You'll get four or five different answers, right, to that. So we have concepts that we all understand, but we label them differently, and that doesn't help us as a profession to help other people understand what we do because it makes us sound like we don't know what we're doing, but we do. We just have to figure out what we're trying to communicate with each other, what we're saying in the higher ed space. One of the challenges we run into is cost cutting, and it often is seen as one of the things that can be cut pretty quickly. But on the other hand, like it's, as I mentioned, a lot of professors were never taught how to teach. And that's why you get lots of really boring lectures and not taught how to create better courses. And that's what instructional designers bring to the table is how to take what, take the material you're trying to teach and how to elevate it. And I think it's really yeah. So I think the biggest challenge is one around credibility and still around the people not knowing what instructional design is. And I can add one more. That's a personal one, because I didn't know what instructional design was when I graduated and when I graduated from high school and...I only... the only career I knew about that involved teaching was being a K-12 teacher. And I knew that I was not a K-12 teacher. That was never going to be me. And so I didn't know what instructional design was when I was in that state where I could have made my first career choice. And it probably would have been... I would have gone that way had I known that was actually an option. But I truly had no idea that that instructional design was a career path. And so for you guys, I want to ask you the question I ask everyone else, too. But what do you see as the future? What is the future of instructional design?

Ethan:

I think we should all answer this.

Christy:

I don't know if this will necessarily be the future of instructional design, but I think it would be great if we started working towards not putting out content for the sake of putting out content, but being mindful of how we present it and how other people are like taking it in and understanding it.

Ethan:

I like that. I think that the future one, a really cool thing about democratizing instructional design is because is that I think currently instructional designers sometimes see their job as being an expert in a certain tool that they need that I know how to use Storyline and I know how to use Captivate and therefore I'm an instructional designer. And I don't think that's what instructional design is at all.

Rebecca Hogue:

I think that it is knowing how people learn and knowing the best practices and knowing how to teach to the individual while also being able to scale lessons and courses.

Ethan:

With democratizing instructional design. You take a lot of the work out of...you take a lot of the extraneous parts of being an instructional designer. Learning tools and learning how to do this branching scenario in this like complex way. And you allow instructional designers to focus on what their expertise is. You allow them to focus on pedagogy. So they're like they're more of like an editor rather than a like a rogue painter or something like working collaboratively they can see things from the broader view and they and they can fine tune to the needs of the people and really capture where their expertise is rather than spending all this time learning extra tools.

Zach:

Yeah.

Ethan:

So I think the future of instructional designers is like to elevate instructional designers in their role and in their in the functions that they actually do on a day to day basis.

Zach:

What I see as the future of instructional design, similar to what Ethan was saying, once we remove that barrier for our tutorial or having to learn the software, there's things and so many people whose jobs can be improved with a simple training so they know better how to do their job or an assignment that's easier and helps them learn more efficiently. Once we remove these barriers to getting into instructional design. I see a lot more people being up, being able to create content and being able to experience content that's really well designed for an instructional base.

Rebecca Hogue:

Thank you folks for joining us on Demystifying Instructional Design. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Christy:

Thank you so much for having us.

Rebecca Hogue:

You've been listening to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. Show notes are posted as a blog post on Demystifying Instructional Design dot com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes Blog post.