Gary L. Mussell
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Instructional Designer

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The way people learn is as diverse as the population itself. There is no on-size-fits-all approach. Some learn visually from white boards and graphics, while others make lists of the steps required. Some only "learn by doing," that is, teach themselves through sample lessons. Having taught abroad, I find that one's culture has a great deal to do with teaching a subject successfully.

Classroom Challenges

In fact within a classroom, I find some follow the pace of instruction just fine, while others take copious notes (which may or may not be accurate.) Some like to defer to others, and watch the computer screens of those sitting adjacent (this is especially true when an employee and his/her supervisor sit next to each other.) Still others sit there under silent protest and prefer to sneak in a game of solitaire or check personal emails if they can get away with it (the usually don't as I like to wander around the class as I teach and not stand just in front of the class). I always use a seating chart so I can call the student by their name. This not only gives the person respect but it also adds a degree of parental control. The challenge of the instructor is to herd these cats" toward the goals set for the day. While I have had my share of failures, I think over the years I have had a" far greater number of successful days than bad ones.

One of the tools I use is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Employee Evaluation System. This categorizes students into 16 different learning "types" within four main groupings. By designing the material to be taught redundantly in these different "types" there is a far better chance for success. For example, I usually give brief talk about the concept to be learned, using the white board to give both a 20,000 foot overview plus some important details. I provide written material on the subject for reference to supplement any notes the students take themselves. We then do a hand-on lesson. In some classes I divide the class into teams so they can compete for the correct answer (this works well in some Asian cultures.) Lastly, I have the students discuss what was learned so I can be sure we are ready to move along to the next lesson. Finally at the end of the class I give a hands-on quiz that incorporates all that was learned that day, so that the students feel confident going back to their offices to apply what was taught.

Video Conferencing, CBT, and Distance Training

In this age of fast-paced technology, classroom instruction is only one of many tools available to an instructional designer. Video Conferencing allows students to come together even though they may be sitting thouisands of miles apart. The challenge is for the instructor to include a higher percentage of student participation because the temptation for students to wander into email and other distractions is much higher. Also studies have found some students "types"do not do as well in a "distance learning" environment, so supplemental training is often required for those who require student-teacher interaction to assimilate the information.

Another method often used by management types is PowerPoint-based courses, using a software compiler such as Articulate or Captivate. These self-directed training programs are often placed onto a company's intranet so that students from different locations can download them and learn at their own pace. "Death by PowerPoint" is the common complaint about these lessons, as instructors try to cram as many bullet points into each slide as possible. Slide images must be used to supplement the class lesson and not become the class lesson! I have written several articles for trade publications on the subject. CLICK HERE to read one of them.

"Just Enough-Just In Time" Training

With the advent of Blackberrys, iPods, and Twitter, the next generation of students may not sit still for a 6-hour hands-on class, but instead prefer to use a search engine they can access to get help on a specific question only; they will then return they can return to the work at hand. The challenge to instructional designers and teachers as the century's second decade begins is to design course material as bite-sized chunks to handle these "just-in-time and just-enough" students who appear to have the attention span of a remote control switch.

The challenge has always been to train those who need to be trained using a method or methods that work in each unique corporate culture, taking into account the social and cultural diversity of its employees. Some of the companies I have worked for understand the change that is upon us, and they have embraced the change. Others still find comfort in the methods that worked 20 years ago. How quickly companies and designers can discard the old paradigms may determine how many can survive to compete in the future.

On-site Employee Classes

Samples of some of my student workbooks. These remain important reference tools.
CLICK HERE to see a list of available courses

Distance learning by Video Conference was all the rage by 2001, with only partial success.

Many younger employees prefer text searches to classroom instruction.

My class photos from Beijing, Singapore, Sydney, and Penang.

My Success Stories

Over the years I have applied many of the methodologies discussed above. Some examples:


Position: Training Coordinator for Pt Mugu and China Lake, NAVAIR Weapons Division (contractor).

Our "Lean Six Sigma” team was charged with reducing a high error rate and long delivery times for the Weapon’s Division data processing staff. I designed all the instructional material and delivered training to all affected support staff at both navy bases using a combination of on-site classroom and video conferencing methods. I also created a PowerPoint-based interactive student workbook for reference and trianing of new-hires that was placed in the Navy Intranet. I also performed a sophisticated data analysis using database metrics and a variety of Excel charts and Pivot Tables to create a monthly “report card” for all WD competency managers of results vs. goals. This way the managers could track the progress of their staff members.

Results: The Error Rate was reduced from 20% to 5.5% in 3 months, and the order process time was reduced from an average of 40 days to 5 days. This translated to an accumulated savings of $5,287,000/year for the departments. I got a nice commendation award from the Admiral for my efforts.


Position: Manager of Training, IT Department

Originally hired as a contractor at Xircom to develop training for the Customer Service Department of 60 people transitioning from a home-grown DOS/Unix database into a multi-million dollar Clarify Software system, I was hired full time and promoted to Training Manager for IT and tasked with training all employees at seven international sites on all company software systems.

I produced the corporation’s first coordinated, international training infrastructure linking the Pacific Rim to Europe and the Americas. It was an efficient blended learning delivery system that networked international employees via teleconferencing, audio Star, Microsoft NetMeeting, PowerPoint and WBT (self-paced, web-based training.) In the process I created dozens of user training manuals and other product documentation using MS Word, PowerPoint, and PageMaker. Most of these training materials had to be translated into the native language of the target country and the classroom methodology changed to accommodate the cultural differences in how people learn.

Later, I coordinated an international staff of 45 in seven countries to deliver training for multi-million dollar upgrade of IT enterprise-level applications for E-Business, Customer Support, Sales and Marketing, Supply Chain, Data Control, and Document Library of technical media (documents, tapes, CDs, videos.) As manager I was responsible for budgeting, facilities, equipment procurement, staffing, and delivery.

When Intel purchased Xircom in 2001, my team developed the training that converted everyone to the new company's systems. Within two years Intel decided to change direction (as it frequently does) and layed off most of the division, including myself.


Position: Instructional Designer

Working at the Western Regional office, I converted the Professional Development department’s 22 e-learning courses for security officers into classroom-led courses including PowerPoint presentations, instructor guides, tests, and student handouts. These were used by the existing staff of trainers to instruct security officers at their sites.In the year I was there I produced over 2000 pages of material, all delivered ahead of time and under budget (Twelve month project completed in eleven.).

Course topics included everything from "Bomb Threats" and "Crowd Control" to "Employee Harassment and Discrimination" and "Responding to a Terrorist Attack." I was developing training for security officers at U.S. ports in conjunction with Homeland Security when the company was reorganized and my position was eliminated.

4. LEARNING TREE UNIVERSITY (instructor, department chair)

As an long-time evening instructor in both the Computer and Business Departments at this 3-campus adult vocational training school, I taught introductory to advanced classes at the university in everything from DOS to Windows, and from the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Access, Project, and Visio) to HTML, I was the “go to” teacher in practically all technical subjects. My evaluations were consistently rated as “outstanding” and I received the Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year Award two different years.

For three years, I worked as Department Chair for Computers and Business. I re-envisioned the departments based upon the needs of students to learn changing technologies by creating a 200-course curriculum, hiring 75 faculty members and raising enrollments from 3,000 to 7,400 paying students per academic semester. My efforts generated a gross annual income to the university of over $1 million/year, doubling the previous gross. By raising standards and expanding curriculum and systems, the department’s enhanced community reputation lead to our national accreditation. The company was bought out by Corinthian Colleges in 2005.

5. QUALITY LOGIC (contract position)

I was hired as Project Lead at this Moorpark California Testing Company to create, implement and supervise three consecutive test projects, worth over $1.5 million in income to the company, comparing quality and yields of different brands of printer cartridges on different models of LaserJet and Inkjet printers.

I took the project from “test plan” to “reality,” hiring, training, and supervising a new team of 50 from scratch who became an accomplished team of printer technicians, page inspectors, quality control inspectors, and data entry clerks. The job of most of the hired staff was to look at page after page of the same printed sheet and to log any discrepencies - such as extra ink spots, splatters, smears, etc. - especially when the cartridge began to die after several hundred pages. These anomalies were entered into a database from which I wrote a final report for the client comparing their brand against six rival cartridges.

Looking at page after page and spotting minor flaws is a form of mental cognitive dissonance (CD), and I developed a reliable pre-screening test based on Festinger's CD theories for applicants before they were hired. As a result we did not suffer a high turnover and the data collected remained consistent. The client company was happy with the results, too.

My affiliation with the American Society for Training and Development for the past 20 years has brought me into contact with some amazing corporate trainers. I learned many useful abilities from them such as running effective meetings,coaching problem employees, avoiding sexual discrimination and harassement, and interviewing skills for managers. My experience with ASTD allowed me to be able to train others and to put together team-building seminars for local companies. One of my most successful results came from a Customer Service Week event at Xircom where we gave the employees a variety of situational challenges and puzzles to solve that tightened their sense of teamwork and also dramatically improved their interactive customer skills.
I continue to run a variation on these team-building exercises creative games for the TNS organization at the company's annual retreats. Each year the games are done a little differently because the veterans - who know my methodology - always try to out-think my challenges. They never succeed, because I often twist the rules, or add a brain teaser or word puzzle. We demonstrate to management that leadership does not always come from those with the title. It is always fascinating to watch some very competitive employees refuse to share in order to win glory for just themselves, while other employees step forward to organize ad-hoc teams so they may win collectively. Management always appreciates the results.

L-R: Lassoing an egg with string; the infamous Trust Fall; The Blindfolded Barynard Game (teams can only speak in the noise of an assigned animal as each person attempts to locate others of his species across a football-sized park; follow the leader through a maze while holding onto (and not breaking) the thread.

Last Updated: 01/12/2010     This Web Site best viewed at 1024x768 resolution 24-bit color using Internet Explorer 7.0 or higher