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Susan Markle's 'Good Frames and Bad'

by Nick Rushby published Jul 15, 2008 05:45 PM, last modified Apr 05, 2011 11:05 PM
A systematic approach for designing learning material from the 1960s, but with relevance today

One of the best and most helpful books for designers of didactic e-learning is Susan Markle’s 'Good Frames and Bad'. This sets out a comprehensive grammar of screen (sometimes called frames) covering the basic elements and operations, systematic approaches to design, and how to adapt material to learners successes and difficulties. This book is a classic and should be on the bookshelf of everyone concerned with technology based education and training.

However, you may find it hard to come by because it was written in the late 1960s and the second and last edition was published by Wiley in 1971. It is now long out of print although you can find some copies on the second-hand market (copies from the USA are much cheaper than those from Europe!) Good Frames and Bad was written in the era of programmed learning where the medium was print (the book itself takes the form of a programmed text) or teaching machines.

Lessons learnt

The key point is that its contents are as relevant now as they were then. But over the past 35 years we have lost the knowledge and competence to write materials that are as effective as those set out in the book. Technology and brilliant graphics has displaced effective learning as our goal for learning materials.

Susan Meyer Markle has now long retired as Professor and Head of Programmed Instruction at the University of Illinois Chicago, and is now a leading light in the Chicago jazz community. There is an opportunity here for someone to bring Susan’s book up to date by setting it in an e-learning context. Both she and the publishers have indicated that they would consider a well thought-out proposal. If you are interested in pursuing the idea, then contact me, Nick Rushby at

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