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Bukit Elephant Park

OPWL 537


For my Instructional Design class at the Boise State University Master's in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) program, I was fortunate enough to work with Bukit Elephant Park, an elephant sanctuary in Phuket, Thailand. I contacted the park to see if they wanted to work with me and my team and they were generous enough to let us help them.

Bukit Elephant Park is a humane elephant sanctuary that invites tourists from around the world to watch elephants in their natural habitat. They allow guests to watch and interact with elephants without subjecting the animals to performing tricks or giving rides and baths to guests. However, guests do physically interact with the elephants and the park felt that they had room to improve their safety training.

Analysis of Training Needs

Training Requirements Analysis

Interviews with stakeholders revealed a need for enhancing knowledge, skills, and abilities of both park staff and guests for a safe and enjoyable experience.

  • Some guests lack awareness of safety protocols, creating risks during elephant interactions. Some guests who are particularly focused on getting great social media pictures actively undermine park rules to get better photos.

  • The park's ethical stance against typical tools to control the elephants like billhooks adds to the challenge of managing guest behavior.

  • Limited resources, such as having only one guide for large groups, and cultural norms affecting the mahouts' (the elephant care takers) willingness to confront misbehaving guests, complicate the effective communication of instructions.

  • We concluded that learning materials should focus on improving guests' knowledge and attitudes, as well as enhancing staff ability to deliver critical information.

Learner Analysis


The park serves guests from around the world and there are few commonalities amongst the entire group of learners. Generally speaking, there are three types of guest:

  • Guests who are fluent in English, who understand information and instructions easily.

  • Guests who are non-English speakers facing language barriers, requiring pattern recognition and non-verbal cues for understanding.

  • Guests with small children, leading to limited attention and comprehension from both parents and children.

Guests are often drawn to the park for close encounters with wildlife, with varying awareness of the park's mission and elephant behavior. Most guests understand that because of the ethical mission of Bukit Elephant Park they are not allowed to ride or bathe with the elephants. However, some guests have little awareness of these considerations and don't understand or may ignore many of the complexities of elephant behavior.


  • The guides struggle with English that is outside the normal scope of talking about the elephants, themselves. They excel in storytelling about elephants rather more than enforcing safety guidelines.

  • Mahouts lack English proficiency and have limited Thai language skills. The head mahout often acts as a Thai translator.

  • Both guides and mahouts, influenced by Thai cultural norms against direct confrontation, are uncomfortable correcting guests. This leads to challenges in managing unsafe or disrespectful behaviors.

Overall Challenges

  • The park's diverse international clientele requires learning designs to be culturally sensitive and linguistically inclusive.

  • Thai cultural practices impact the park staff's ability to correct guests, especially those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

  • Managing a large number of guests (up to 40 at a time) is overwhelming for the limited staff, necessitating engaging and effective learning materials that capture guests' attention and communicate essential information.

Environmental Analysis

The park's layout significantly influenced the selection of appropriate interventions. Due to the expansive open spaces, it becomes challenging for guides to communicate effectively with all 40 guests beyond the lobby area. Additionally, elephants are sensitive to loud noises, which limits the use of raised voices or yelling by guides to address dangerous behavior.


To ensure critical information is conveyed to guests, we determined that we needed to convey as much information as we reasonably could within the lobby. Subsequently, any additional interventions implemented throughout the park should be discreet yet assistive to both guides and mahouts. Beyond the lobby, reliance on English or Thai to correct behavior is impractical. Therefore, any supporting materials must employ design principles that support understanding without dependence on language.​

Task Analysis

There were two primary behaviors that we needed to correct which were the result of learner's attitude and knowledge:

  • Given that appropriate resources are accessible within the park, guests will follow all safety protocols at all times.

  • Given access to easy to use resources, mahouts and guides will be able to effectively communicate to guests when they behave improperly. 

Facilitation Plan

After a thorough analysis of the performance problem, the target behavior, and the learners, we decided to develop a video to be shown in the lobby before guests enter the park, playing cards that teach guests about the elephants' personalities and what they like, and posters that will hang throughout the park to assist guides and mahouts in reminding guests of the rules.

The Video

The video took into account guest and Thai cultures and is a cute but humorous walk through the park and the safety procedures. The script was written in such a way that was designed to foster a sense of empathy for the elephants and the mahouts, while keeping the tone light and friendly. We designed the video around Mayer's Principles of Multimedia Learning of simultaneously presenting information visually and audibly, and avoiding writing what the narrator is saying. The material and pace was guided by Keller's ARCS-V theory which says to keep all the educational information immediately relevant and engaging.

The Playing Cards

The playing cards were designed to help guests better understand the personalities of the elephants and humanize them in the minds of guests who may come from cultures that do not usually think of elephants as emotional individuals. The cards were designed using C.R.A.P. Design Principles of using symbols and color to keep similar elements similar and different elements separate, and Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory with the idea that the cards would get guests interacting with the elephants, even if only in an abstract way.

The Posters

The posters were designed to be placed at each elephant's station throughout the park. The goal is to give guides and mahouts a neutral policy they can physically point to whenever guests are behaving in an unsafe way. Following Cognitive Load Theory, they only display information that is simple to understand and immediately relevant. We used C.R.A.P. Design Principles to keep the design simple and consistent, and using universal colors to communicate clear information. Following Mayer's Principles of Multimedia Learning, all the phrases on the posters are short and simple and personable.

Instructional Materials

The Video

Adam Minahan and I developed the instructional video together. I wrote the script and performed the voiceover, while Adam animated it in Vyond. The client was extremely happy with the final reult.

The Playing Cards

Alexis Bolick designed the cards and they've proven to be a big hit with the park staff. I think they look beautiful and are something fun for children and families to play with while they wait for the tour to start. Adam Minahan designed the rules and the instruction page.

The Posters

Claudia Achilles designed the posters and the mahouts and guides have gives us wonderful feedback. They are bright and easy to understand immadiately from a distance. The park put them up at each stop along the tour path so they'll always be eaasily accessible to guests and staff. They all follow a beautiful common design language and they should take presssure off of park staff from having to be the "bad guys".



Working on this amazing project has been a fantastic experience, and I'm so thankful for the chance to collaborate with such a remarkable team and to serve the client we were fortunate to find. Fern, our go-to person at the park, consistently demonstrated immense generosity with her time and expertise. Whenever our team had disagreements or got confused, she was there to guide us and clear up any misunderstandings.

One of our initial proposed interventions faltered due to cultural considerations, but Fern stepped in and directed us toward a more suitable approach. Her crucial insights undoubtedly played a significant role in our project's success.

Our team was made up of some seriously talented and driven learning designers. We kept communication open and honest, giving feedback when things went well and when we needed to improve. This project's success would not have been possible without this amazing team, and it has taught me that the key to great outcomes is working with smart, hard-working, and talented people.

You can download the entire report here.

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