In organizations like yours, the overall success of the team is based on the individual contributions of your associates. Our approach to instructional design helps you attract, retain, and enrich each and every individual on your team.

What’s our philosophy?

First, we align the learning objectives with your desired outcome. Next, it’s all about the learner: learning by doing, discovery, telling stories, and providing perspectives. My team of instructional design professionals is immersed in an environment that enables success. Mentorship, peer review, collaboration with technologists and designers, and templates, tools, and interaction libraries make their designs – and your vision – come to life.

Thought Leader: Catherine Davis- Instructional Design Practice Lead



Catherine Davis
Instructional Design Practice Lead

As SweetRush’s Instructional Design Team Leader, Catherine Davis is a quiet powerhouse. Project challenges stand no chance against Catherine’s creativity, light-speed thinking, and can-do spirit. Her deep experience as an instructional designer in various capacities (in-house corporate, vendor, freelance) means she truly understands the needs of our ID team and our clients. Combined with her knack for documenting and sharing best practices, and developing process, templates and tools, Catherine brings structure, efficiency, and continuous improvement to her role and our team. Yet she also knows when to keep it light: We’re always eager to see her next clever Skype© avatar or just share a good laugh. A team builder and a team player, you can count on Catherine for expertly crafted instructional design, solid on-boarding, and sage advice.


What is an

An avatar is a character that serves as part of a story in your training module, game, or simulation.

The avatar may be designed as an expert who provides guidance and feedback to the learner, or it may be a peer or colleague who can motivate learners and provide tips and assistance. In some cases, learners may select an avatar, customize its appearance, and control its actions during the learning experience.
What does the research say?
Some of us can remember back to the much-maligned Microsoft® paper clip and question the use of avatars.

However, research and our experience show that, done well, avatars can be an effective learning tool. With some companies shifting away from classroom training, avatars offer a human touch within e-learning and a way to deliver consistent instructional messages. They can also increase engagement and interest in continuing instruction. When learners control the avatars, they can influence behavior—particularly when they resemble the learner in some way. Behaviors practiced in the virtual world are more likely to be practiced in a real environment.
Why else should you consider Avatars? The key advantage with animated avatars, beyond learner engagement,is their flexibility and ease of future maintenance. Whether you need minor changes or major additions, animated avatars don’t require a re-shoot—and you never have to schedule around their vacations!
What works
well and what doesn’t?

First, the presence of a visual (animated, ideally) is essential; just hearing a voice does not appear to provide all of the benefits of an avatar. Second, don’t overuse the avatar. Use it when you need to introduce, emphasize, or summarize key points. Third, keep your audience in mind. A professional audience will respond more favorably to more realistic and sophisticated avatars, and a younger audience may favor a more cartoon-based avatar.
Check out these samples from the SweetRush Avatar library for more inspiration.
Nancy is a good representation of a somewhat stylized avatar. She is the right avatar for a cross between a cartoon and a realistic avatar. The style can work with younger and older audiences.
Avatar Nancy Red Line Avatar Jennifer
CHARACTER 2 Jennifer
Jennifer is an example of a highly stylized avatar. She leans more toward a cartoon, less-realistic style. She appeals to younger audiences; however, this style can liven up dry content and make it more approachable.
Yellow Line Avatar John
John is a great marriage of stylized and realistic. We have found that if avatars are too realistic, they can have, as called in our industry, the “creep-out effect.” Leaving some interpretation of the details to learners allows them to better relate to the avatar.
Green Line
Alex falls into the same category as Jennifer, as he is on the more stylized side. These types of avatars really create a sense of fun in courses and allow for humor. They are more approachable for learners who might be timid about significant amounts of detailed content. We have used this avatar with large corporate clients during game simulations with great success.
Avatar Alex Blue Line Avatar Bruno
Bruno is a nice cross between a realistic and cartoon style. He has a lot of personality and can be used to demonstrate information in a more approachable way. He can be an avatar guide with or without voice, and provide a lot of key content.
Purple Line Avatar Scooter
Scooter is a little puff ball of fun! He is definitely on the cartoon side. This style has been used with young and mature audiences. Who doesn’t love and connect with a cute puppy?


Building a Community of Practice
In Part 1 of my “Learning Toward a Common Goal” blog series, I discussed Mass Collaboration exercises such as Cicada 3301, and their benefits to corporations and organizations. In this blog, I’ll tackle how to get traction with your “community of practice.” Yammer, Facebook®, home-grown technologies… I often see clients create community of practice sites...
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There’s a shift happening in the world of instructional design, and the new kid in town is mobile learning. Well, he’s hardly the new kid anymore—he’s set up shop and customers are pretty excited about what he’s got to offer. Learning anywhere, anytime? Sign us up! As the instructional designer next door, you are in...
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I was in Las Vegas recently, and I went to see David Copperfield. Remember him? He’s the illusionist who made the Grand Canyon disappear. His show is amazing and, no doubt, his illusions are top-notch. But what really struck me is how he continually engaged his audience throughout the show. Almost every trick incorporated audience...
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I know adult learning theories. I’m skilled in instructional design and a master of curriculum models. I’m an expert in facilitation and evaluation of learning. I am a learning professional! (Cue superhero music…) Then I was asked to create a course for sixth graders. They told me the goals were simple: Create an elective for...
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“Are you ready? Let’s get started!” Audio has always been a core element of e-learning, and today — with the rise of avatars, games, simulations, podcasts, and m-learning — it plays an even more integral role. Tasked with writing both the text on screen and audio scripts, it can be easy for instructional designers to...
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The article is the result of a collaborative inquiry begun by our Good Things Initiative team leaders Andrei Hedstrom and Brooking Gatewood. Together we have worked to integrate a meaning of work aspect into our training designs where-ever possible. Read on to find out why we are so excited about this win-win training solution! Today...
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Too Sexy for Your Training: Creating A “What’s In it for Me?” (WIIFM) When Your Learners Couldn’t Care Less
Job Aids… and If You Need Them
Reaping the Benefits of Virtual Training, Part Two
Mass Collaboration Learning SweetRush
This year, it started with a tweet: Nobody knows who it comes from and nobody knows why: for the third year running, though, a mystery puzzle of dazzling proportions has thousands of computerphiles scrambling to decode messages buried in pictures, literary works, and music, using high-tech cryptography programs. Real-world QR code clues have surfaced in...
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Let’s say we’re on a call to discuss a new performance improvement project. One of the first questions I’ll ask you is, “Who is your audience?” You might be able to give me a narrow demographic—age range, reading level, preferences, etc. But increasingly you may find yourself reflecting on a particular role and the multigenerational...
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Social Learning Shared Experiences
Learning in the workplace has always had a strong element of “social.” Think about being walked through the office on your first day by a new colleague. Or tapping the shoulder of your officemate to ask a question, and getting a quick response so you can continue your work. Think about how many challenging problems...
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Tacit Knowledge SME Subject Matter Experts
Star performers, master salesmen — really any kind of subject-matter expert (SME) — know what they know based on years of experience. They’ve seen many situations, solved many problems. From a training perspective, the value these experts bring is their developed understanding — not only of what they do, but, more importantly, why they do...
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Foreshadowing and climax are two storytelling techniques used for complex simulations.
If you’re an instructional designer who loves a good novel or a compelling movie, writing for complex simulations gives you a great opportunity to flex your own creative writing muscle. The first part of your job, of course, is to get a firm grasp on the business drivers, the performance gap, and the training objectives,...
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Using Social Media in Classroom Learning
Instructional designers: Do you have a “friend” in Facebook? Integrating social media into performance improvement is a hot topic, but how do you make sure your techniques get plenty of “likes” from learners? ASTD’s T+D magazine featured an article by Dan Steer, Improve Formal Learning with Social Media (note: you must be a member to...
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Storytelling Story Instructional Design
What makes content engaging? Courses need to sparkle, or your message goes in one ear and out the other. We add stories to help capture the imagination. That’s a great start. Then we add an avatar coach to guide us and provide narration. Nice idea. It feels like we need to connect the dots and...
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If You Build It and It’s Not Mandatory, Will They Come?
On Being an ID: Part Two
Reaping the Benefits of Virtual Training, Part One
McDonalds Monopoly Learning Game Designers
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Working with Remote Instructional Designers
Many of us dream of working at home: sucking down coffee all day, sporting a baggy t-shirt and ponytail (or even Einstein hair). We can research, brainstorm detailed designs, and have our storyboard writing spurts without interruption. However, for some instructional designers (IDs) who have worked for many years at an office, large or small,...
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As learning and performance improvement consultants and developers, we see trends emerge across the landscape of our client base, despite vast differences in the products and services they offer. We see workforces becoming more dispersed and virtual teams an acceptable norm. We see organizations looking to reduce training costs and accelerate new-hire orientation through online...
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“Others see our behaviors, but do not know our intentions. We know our intentions, but do not see our behaviors.” This simple phrase was the foundation of a very successful leadership program developed a number of years ago; one that I regularly use in my coaching practice. It is one of those memorable expressions that...
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Integrating CSR and Training is like playing cupid - creating a match made in heaven!
I have been in the training industry for more than a decade, and I also have a long-standing personal interest in corporate sustainability and responsibility (CSR). So, naturally, as I’ve watched the CSR field develop, I ask myself this question: How can the training function support CSR initiatives? The good news is that there is...
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Storytelling for complex simulations - avoid writer's block with these techniques!
Character, plot, foreshadowing, climax… with a quick glance, you might think this post is about the Great American Novel or the next hit indie drama. No, I’m not writing to you from a tiny room in Paris hunched over a typewriter, nor am I in a slick writer’s room in Hollywood. Yet writing for complex...
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Here at SweetRush, we talk a lot about “designing for the mind.” The way we treat visual design in learning can help or hurt a learner’s experience and ability to retain knowledge. We’re quite good at this; check out my colleague John-Carlos Lozano’s blog, where he regularly provides helpful tips for creative design—particularly in e-learning....
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Tips for Training Millennials
In our workplace today we see three primary generations: Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. Gen X, the generation sandwiched in between the Boomers and the Millennials, is only half as big as the Boomer generation. As Boomers retire, there will only be “experienced” workers to fill half of those positions. This means Millennials will...
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On Being an ID: Part One