Korean Zombie Instructional Design

korean-zombie-idI first found out about The Korean Zombie from Craig Wiggins, who was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with those words. In case your universe does not intersect with martial arts fighters, here’s some background.

The Korean Zombie is the nickname of South Korean mixed martial arts and kickboxing champ, Jung Chan-Sung. His nickname,”comes from his ability to continue to move forward and fight aggressively, even after taking heavy blows,” according to Wikipedia.

martial-arts2It didn’t take long to associate this description with the role of the instructional designer. Do you withstand heavy blows and continue to move forward? If so, then you’re practicing Korean Zombie Instructional Design (KZID). See the examples below.

Your Client Shoots Down Your Idea

The Heavy Blow: Have you ever worked late into the night and prepared a brilliant, creative strategy? You prototype it just enough so that your client will understand. Beaming with confidence, you stride into the meeting. Within minutes, however, you notice everyone looks uneasy, perhaps confused. No one understands. They don’t get it so they don’t like it.

martial-arts1The KZID Way: This kind of blow might set back a typical learning professional. But if you practice KZID, you’ll find a way. You let the client know that you hear her concerns. You go back and create an entire running lesson, so no one has to envision what you mean. No imagination required.

Next time, you preface your presentation with somber data showing that retention is poor after standard training. You explain that engaging learning boosts motivation. Did those blows set you back? Not for long, because you practice KZID.

Your SME Insists You Include Everything

The Heavy Blow: Your subject matter expert is a lawyer who insists that reams of information must be included in an eLearning course. You insist it would be better to put it in a PDF document and distribute. No way. This is compliance training and the organization needs to track it for legal reasons. KZID to the rescue.

zombie-instructional-design3The KZID Way: You divide the content into three categories: practical need-to-know concepts, solutions to common situations and hard core legal documentation. You create a task-oriented scenario-based course to teach the need-to-know concepts. You place the legal documentation on another “layer” as the rationale that supports each concept. Anyone interested in this information can easily access and read it.

Finally, the common situations are handled with a performance support strategy. They are categorized in an FAQ format on an internal website, which also has a forum. Employees can get help with sticky situations and company lawyers rotate through the forum to provide advice once a day.

You’re Forced to Use a Talking Head Video

The Heavy Blow: Nothing turns off an audience more quickly than a monotone talking head video. Yet no matter how much you protest, the course sponsor insists that due to company politics, your course must start this way. Ouch. That will be a blow to everyone’s head.

The KZID Way: You take a deep breath and start searching for stock video footage. Or maybe you borrow a camera and shoot some B-roll (alternate footage) yourself. When it’s time to edit, you ensure that as the talking head drones on, the audience is simultaneously seeing interesting footage about the topic. In fact, you might ensure there are lots of quick edits, so that it almost feels lively. Adding the upbeat intro and outro music finishes things off just right. That’s when you know you’re a Korean Zombie Instructional Designer.

 You Have No Budget for a Professional Voiceover

The Heavy Blow: You love the sound of a professional voiceover, but few people in your company share your passion. A high profile course is coming up and there still isn’t money in the budget to hire real talent for the narration. Can you withstand multiple kicks to the head? Of course you can.

zombie-instructional-design4The KZID Way: You walk up and down rows of cubicles to find the best voice in your company. You flatter the person and tell him or her how exciting audio recording can be, particularly for eLearning courses. You purchase a “popper stopper” to filter out the plosive sounds that pop and are the sign of an amateur.

You whittle down the script to the essential elements, writing out technical terms in phonetic spelling. You spend an hour coaching your victim. Did this blow keep you down? Of course not. You’re a Korean Zombie Instructional Designer.


Craig goes on to explain The Korean Zombie’s appeal, “While he is a very accomplished, exciting, competent mixed martial arts competitor, his fighting style essentially reduces the subroutines of mixed martial arts competition by slowly advancing into the line of fire. This means that he’s either going to patiently stalk down his opponent or get knocked out.”

This almost feels too familiar.

How do you practice KZID? Answer below.

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  1. Joe Fournier says

    Too funny…and oh so true. I love how you’ve captured the essense of the Korean Zombie method!

    Thank you for bringing forward the proper terminology. Many of us have been practicing the technique for years without knowing what to call it.

    Now, where can I get that t-shirt?

    And is there any truth to the rumor that you and Craig are working on a book by the same name?

  2. M McCown says

    This is fantastic! I just ran into the 2nd situation and was able to apply some (not all) of the KZID techniques. Now, I am armed for future attacks! Put me down for the t-shirt in small, please!

  3. Jade says

    Absolutely feels like the role of ID is that of a fighter, taking on villains. However if zombies eat brains we may all starve to death in corporate L&D…

  4. Dr. B says

    Just the thing to refresh one’s determination.

    Now, where can I order a shirt? (xxl)


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