Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Instructional Design Training: Creating Effective E-Learning

Ask your learners what they think of e-learning and the chances are there will be one word that trips off many of their tongues - boring. Whether you are a seasoned e-learning designer or you are about to embark on creating e-learning for the first time, instructional design training can help you better understand how to develop boredom-busting e-learning first time and every time.

So why is e-learning so frequently boring? Because instructional designers usually focus too much on content. Getting the right content to your learners is, of course, hugely important; but, focusing solely on content may not be your best starting point.

Once you start down the content-driven route, you begin thinking about your e-learning rather like a book.This leads to linear thinking; and, before you know it, your piece of learning looks more like a PowerPoint presentation. Fine if you are standing up in front of a live audience and speaking to them on a specific topic. Not so good if your learners are going to be sat in front of a computer screen reading lots of text and endlessly clicking on a 'next' button.

The conventional response to this problem is to stick with the content-centric approach but to add what most e-learning developers refer to as interactions. These are activities that are placed on individual screens of content for your learners to complete. Things like answering true/false or multiple choice questions; or dragging items across the computer screen.

You will likely be using a software authoring tool to create your e-learning. Most of these authoring tools provide you with the functionality to easily create interactions.

Unfortunately, the number of interactions you can easily add to your e-learning is quite limited. So they quickly become repetitive and boring; and, they still don't deal with the problem of asking learners to read vast amounts of content on screen.

Instead of trying to pretty up a fundamentally flawed, content-centric approach, consider using a scenario-driven approach. Scenarios are a fantastically simple, but effective way to provide a realistic context for learning to happen. For example, if your learners work in an office or the customer service help point in a store, look at using those contexts as the start point for the learning.

Build on your chosen context by developing related challenges that would naturally occur in the context. Then create a series of activities to encourage learners to meet those challenges. After all, your learners spend every day of their working lives meeting challenges and solving problems. Why should their learning be any different? Creating challenges and activities enables your learners to experiment with different ways of dealing with a situation. This provides genuinely effective learning and goes way beyond the tell and test model of most conventional e-learning.

Based on the decisions and actions your learners take, it becomes possible to provide them with extensive, meaningful feedback on their activities. This is where real learning will take place and is how learners begin to understand the consequences of different actions and decisions.

By using the four-pronged approach of context, challenge, activity and feedback, you can create e-learning that is truly effective at improving your learners' knowledge and performance.