How do you write really good instructions? Lego versus Meccano


If you’ve read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, you’ll know that one of the questions that Sophie receives during her mysterious philosophical journey is this:

  • “Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?”

The writer didn’t ask why Meccano was the most ingenious toy.

And clearly, the answer has to do with the creativity that Lego inspires. But I also think part of the ingenuity of lego is to do with the instructions.

I should declare my biases up front. I’m 45 and I’ve been playing with Lego for a long time.

This includes for the last 17 years with three kids. Two girls and a boy. In this time I’ve tried a handful of Meccano projects compared with countless lego kits including Duplo.

Meccano, if you don’t know, predates Lego. My Dad grew up with Meccano before they invented Lego.

Think nuts and bolts and metal struts. Except now it’s plastic.

Meccano used to be the bomb. At least in 1950. Or something. But man… now Lego is the bomb. Lego rules over Meccano.

And not just in terms of versatility. I’m talking about how they write instructions.

Giving clear instructions is really hard. You’ll know this if you’ve ever had to follow anyone else’s.

First off though, you have to pitch your instructions at the right level. And that means you need to know who you’re writing to. The audience in other words.

Lego totally nails this. I have total confidence that if I buy a Lego kit that says for age 8 to 10 it will absolutely work for this age group.

The Meccano set my wife came home with the other day was for my son.

He’s just turned eight. Which seemed perfect because that’s what the kit said on the packet. For 8 years old.

Normally, he can concentrate for hours on stuff like Lego. And to give him credit, he persisted for a decent amount of time.

But eventually, he gave up in frustration. There were tears… there were raised voices… Crying etc.

So I gave it a go the other day. The outcome was basically the same.

Not only would I need four hands to complete the task, it was like I couldn’t understand the instructions and there seemed to be pieces missing or that didn’t match.

Comparatively speaking, there is no comparison. Granted, it’s not all about the instructions.

But if you want to learn how to write instructions, you need to go no further than the Lego best practice playbook which must read something like this:

  1. Understand the audience.
  2. Pitch the instructions at their level.
  3. Use colour, diagrams, images.
  4. Include all the resources the audience needs.
  5. Use words only when necessary.
  6. Love the product.

How Do You Save A YouTube Clip for training purposes?


If you’re anything like me you would have wondered from time to time how to save a YouTube clip to your hard drive or to a USB drive so you can play it whenever you want.

Why not just stream it? Well… you might not have access to an internet connection when you need it.

Or, like me, you might be paranoid that the internet connection you’ve been promised will be patchy and fail at the crucial moment.

This paranoia is usually based on experience…

Here’s my solution:

  • Use free online youtube downloaders that convert the clips to MP4 files that I can save on my computer.

I’m not advocating any particular one, but you can generally find them by googling the following search terms or something similar:

  • “Free online youtube downloader covert to mp4”

Here’s an example website:

There are different file formats for video. I’m generally on a Mac and I like to use MP4 for video as it seems pretty universal.

Make sure that you understand any relevant copyright or fair use guidelines first.

If your organisation prohibits you from downloading youtube clips then this is for information purposes only.

You know… So you know how other people do it.



How do you really start using data from the TEC assessment tool to inform your teaching? Part 2

AT7In my last post, I outlined a process for analysing the content of the Learner Reports generated by the TEC Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool.

The reason for this is that I think that tutors should be using the data that they have access to to help them make better decisions about what to teach. This is a kind of data-driven decision making for educators.

It’s also something that is going to become a big deal due to the fact that the TEC is going to make funding decisions about your organisation based on the results that your learners get in the assessment tool, combined with the fact that tutors will come under pressure to demonstrate that learners have progressed by showing gains in subsequent reports.

What I wanted to do in this post was extend my discussion from last time and address a common issue faced by many tutors and educators when they come to deal with these Learner Reports.

It goes something like this: As a tutor you’re using the Assessment Tool with your learners and dutifully reporting the results back to management. You even print out or access the Learner Reports so you can see what step your learners are, but that’s typically where it stops.

The reason for this is simple.

  • The language used in the reports is the technical jargon of literacy and numeracy and often makes no sense to a “non expert”.

This means that as a tutor, you cannot easily make a connection from what the report details are telling you to your own (or any) content.

Here’s how to fix this problem… at least partially anyway. The specialised language of literacy and numeracy is not going away any time soon. But then neither is the specialised language and jargon of your trade.

Here you just need to suck it up and deal with the fact that you have to learn some new words. 

But there is something you can do that makes it easier to get your head around what’s going on.

As an educator who is using the Assessment Tool you should have access to the Learner Reports online. If you don’t then talk to management. You should.

When you look at the Learner Reports online the question numbers are hyperlinked. See the screenshot at the top. This means that once you are looking at the report you can click through to get some more information including:

  • A further breakdown of this question item.
  • What the correct answer should have been.
  • What the incorrect answers could indicate

Here’s an example:


And then you can click the words “View Learner Response” and you’ll see the following:

  • What your learner saw on the screen (or page) when they answered. In other words, you get to see the test item. This is important if you’re using the computer adaptive version.
  • What their original and incorrect answer actually was

Here’s the rest of the example:


This helps you in a number of ways. One of these is it gives you some kind of insight into what was going through your learner’s head when they answered incorrectly.

And more importantly, it puts the literacy and numeracy jargon of the report, in particular the language used in the Question Intent in to some kind of context. In this case, you get an idea of the kind of ratio the question intent is talking about and you see the context from the tool.

And this should help you decide on how you could design, teach, or assess something similar in your own particular context.

Does that make sense? Let me know…

How to embed literacy and numeracy in 8 steps


This is the latest version of what I think of as the Embedding Literacy and Numeracy Pipeline. This is how you get those literacy and numeracy skills embedded into other content areas.

  1. Use a broad brush tool like the TEC literacy and numeracy assessment tool to assess your learners’ overall literacy and numeracy achievement levels. Make sure you look at your data.
  2. Develop embedded literacy and numeracy learning outcomes to help you focus with laser-like precision on specific and narrow areas of need within the context of your training or work. Your learning outcomes need to bring together specific literacy or numeracy skills with specific content areas.
  3. Pre-test your learners with contextualised literacy and numeracy diagnostic assessments to find out what they already know and can do. You might need to create these assessments yourself. Get on with it…
  4. Set up learning plans to monitor progress towards specific and measurable learning goals. If you can negotiate these with your learners, well done…! If not, set them up anyway for your own purposes.
  5. Design teaching and learning sequences with appropriate activities and resources to address the specific and relevant skill areas you identified. Focus on moving learners from the step that they are at, to where they need to be.
  6. Deliver your embedded literacy and numeracy teaching interventions with a focus on relevant literacy and numeracy skills within the context of your trade or vocational training. Make it fun… and remember: Context is king.
  7. Post-test your learners by reusing your contextualised literacy and numeracy diagnostic assessments from earlier to see what they have learned. This is a kind of progress test. Celebrate the achievements.
  8. Evaluate the effectiveness of what you did at each stage. Ask yourself what worked and what didn’t and why.

That’s it… Oh, here’s a handy set of cards for this that you can print out, cut up, and use for training purposes:

ELN pipeline cards