It was a gloomy, gray February morning at Training 2018 in Atlanta. Michael Getz, our President and Founder, and I were in the final minutes before the kickoff of our Rubrics 101 workshop. We’d carefully crafted our handouts and our slides to provide a good experience for the conference attendees who would be joining our session.  I’m am not a morning person, so presenting at 8:00 AM session was extra challenging. The tweets were flying!


The room eventually filled up, and we began the workshop, bouncing back and forth going over the content. For those who may not know what a rubric is, a rubric is a table that is used to evaluate an assignment. It displays the criteria used to evaluate and descriptions of the levels of performance for each. Rubrics are provided with the assignment so the learner knows the parameters that they will be evaluated against, and act as a resource for self-checking prior to submission.  They are widely used in higher and elementary education but rarely in corporate training. Our workshop was designed to teach trainers what rubrics are, how they might be leveraged in training, and how to create them. 

Our slides from the program are here if you’d like to take a look at what we presented in the workshop. Illumina is happy to do these kinds of workshops for your group. Just ask! 

Rubrics Align with Learning Objectives

When you are building a rubric, you need to align it with learning objectives, so we walked the class through setting up the goal, outcomes, and learning objectives of a case study using a lesson for beginners on baking blueberry muffins. Our plan was to have the attendees create a rubric for the end goal and evaluate the completed blueberry muffins. We started them off creating an empty shell, then broke up into table groups. 

The groups were humming along, busily debating what the criteria were for evaluating a blueberry muffin, then figuring out how to parse descriptions for each criterion. Michael and I circulated around the room, and chatted with each table. I landed at a table that couldn’t move past the starting point. Pei-Chun Chung, a trainer from Taiwan who I’d met the night before, was seated at the table with another woman. “What’s going on, ladies?” The problem? Pei-Chun didn’t know what a blueberry muffin was.

Never Assume

Well THAT caught me by surprise, for sure. If you’ve ever been to Chinatown and sampled some of the sweets offered by their bakeries, you’ll know that Asian sweets are very different from American ones. Blueberries are relatively new to China, so blueberry muffins are not as ubiquitous as they are here. Even though Pei-Chun had been to America a few times, she had never sampled a blueberry muffin. Now we had a dilemma, because this table was trying to write something that one of the pair had no experience with.

Lightbulb Moment

I realized that this was a teachable moment for the class. Very often when instructional designers are working with a subject matter expert, we come at things through the eyes of a novice. We bring an outside perspective and ask questions the same way our learners might. When you have only experts building something, assumptions can be made that lose the novice learner and create a problem in a training program. Expertise blinds us. There’s a lot of research out there about that. (Check some out!) Having Pei-Chun in class provided an opportunity to create a rubric that a novice would understand. I set the table back to work, recognizing that this would be very useful during the debrief.

When all of the groups were completed, we reviewed their rubrics against a sample that we had included in the slides, then discussed the value of having Pei-Chun as part of the process, and looked at the applications for us as an entire group.

Other Surprises

As we discussed further, one of the additional surprises that came up was the challenge around vocabulary. Pei-Chun was not a baker, which is something that created another layer of challenge. Words around texture of baked goods needed to be simplified so someone unfamiliar with them could recognize what they were describing. Additionally, English is not her mother tongue, so we were also working with ESL challenges that necessitated simplification.

Overall, it was a great experience for everyone, the teachers included. The evaluations included comments about the immediate applicability and practicality of the material. 

Lessons Learned 

Lesson 1. When Michael and I planned this lesson, we thought we knew our audience. Our primary concern was that rubrics might be new to them, though there might be some higher ed people in the audience with experience. We recognized that we may need to consider variables as we do in Universal Design to prepare for accessibility, ESL and advanced learners. 

Lesson 2. In live training, as a facilitator, we need to be able to spin on a dime to respond to the audience. In eLearning, you don’t have the opportunity to adapt like that, so preparing for the entire audience is key.

Lesson 3. We were reminded of the value of having a novice as part of the development process because of the perspective that is brought in. This is an integral part of the user experience design we walk through as we develop eLearning. We find we are most effective when we get to interview actual end users as part of the development. 

Illumina Interactive: Good eLearning. Done Well.

At Illumina, we are always learning. We work to leverage that experience with our clients. Connect with us if you’d like to explore adding rubrics to your eLearning, for us to present a program about them at your facility, or if you’d like to retool some of your existing material for a broader audience. We look forward to hearing from you