Thursday, December 18, 2014

This Is How I Draft an eLearning Lesson

By Shelley A. Gable

You’ve completed your analysis. And, you’ve designed a course, which consists of several lessons. So, you’re at the point where you’re about to start drafting lesson materials.

How do you approach an individual lesson?

For instance, do you start writing the lesson introduction and work your way through to the end? Do you start with certain types of content? And, at what point do you write assessment questions (when applicable)?

Personally, I sketch the lesson activities and assessment questions first.

Suppose I have a lesson with a few objectives. Each objective specifies a behavior, which I need learners to perform at some point during the lesson. And most of the time, I need to later test them on those same behaviors. Therefore, I should test those behaviors in a way that’s consistent with how learners practiced them in training.

Since this much is a given, this is where I like to start.

I grab a piece of scratch paper (kind of old school, I know), and I loosely divide it into three columns.

In the left column, I abbreviate the lesson objectives.

I use the middle column to jot down notes about the hands-on activities I’ll use to prompt learners to perform each objective’s behavior. Simulation? Resolving scenarios? Something else?

Though I don’t write out the full activity in that middle column, I make notes about key components to incorporate. Perhaps specific types of details to include in a scenario, or coaching-oriented reminders to call out when writing feedback.

In the right column, I figure out how to set up corresponding assessment questions. Sometimes I can make the assessment question almost identical to the activity (e.g., using similarly structured scenario-based questions). Sometimes I need to figure out a variation, due to assessment tool limitations. Of course, the aim is for the objectives, activities, and on-the-job behaviors to align as closely as possible.

When I put fingers to keyboard to type the actual lesson materials, I create in this order:
  1. Write activities.
  2. Write assessment questions.
  3. Write content that goes between the activities (e.g., references to job aids, explanations, etc.).
  4. Write lesson introduction and summary.

Why this approach?

For me, this keeps me focused on the objectives so learners have ample opportunity to practice the stated behaviors. It helps me make sure that learners spend a larger proportion of the lesson time doing rather than being told. It helps me better differentiate critical versus nice to know information. And, it helps ensure alignment.

Granted, this sequence might not work well for everyone. And, I realize that most instructional design models suggest starting with the assessment questions. However, this is the approach that works for me.

How does it compare to your approach?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

4 Ways to Jump Start an eLearning Lesson

By Shelley A. Gable

I’ve heard learners criticize eLearning lessons that have too much “extra” stuff at the beginning.

Think about all the material that some lessons place before the actual content: title slide, copyright and/or confidentiality statements, navigation instructions, learning objectives, etc. It can potentially add up to a lot of extra clicks (that learners may or may not actually pay attention to), which gets the activity off to a somewhat sluggish start.

Next time you create an eLearning lesson, consider placing meaningful content immediately after (or maybe even before) the title slide.

Here are a few approaches to think about…

--1-- Make information that isn’t part of the course content available via buttons. For instance, you might have a “Navigation Help” button that’s always available at the top or bottom of the screen. And a “Confidentiality” button, for example. That way, this information is accessible to learners without setting a bland tone for the lesson.

--2-- Place learning objectives after a compelling story or challenge. Opening the lesson with a story or scenario places learners in a meaningful context and may spark curiosity for what their tasks in the training will be. This presents the objectives as the logical next step in the learning experience, instead of simply being a series of dry statements at the beginning.

--3-- Start with a relevantly designed splash page to inspire interest. When I say splash page, I’m envisioning a short multimedia blurb (shorter than a minute; perhaps under 30 seconds) that begins when a learner launches the lesson. It comes even before a title slide. I’ve seen some organizations use splash pages to display their branding in a high-energy way, but why not design it with visuals and audio that offer a glimpse into the upcoming content?

--4-- Make the title slide multitask. For example, an informal pre-quiz can be an effective way to acknowledge what learners already know about a topic, while also making them aware of what they don’t know, to help prime them for upcoming content. If you create a pre-quiz that is informal and short, you might put it right on the title side. Another approach to leveraging a title slide for content: include a brief introduction to a character that appears in the first story or scenario. Or, include the first couple of lines from that story or scenario, if they’re written in a way that would motivate learners to continue reading. However, a word of caution: careful visual design is crucial with this approach, as a cluttered title slide could overwhelm learners.

What techniques do you use to connect learners to content as promptly as possible in an eLearning lesson?

Have you placed meaningful content before a title slide? Have you placed content on a title slide? Have you tried other approaches?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Making a Game Out of Software Simulations

By Shelley A. Gable

I recently worked on a lengthy course that included a lot of software training. The intent of the training was not only to introduce learners to the software, but also to build fluency with several key tasks.

Of course, building fluency requires practice. So, one of the challenges with designing the training was figuring out how to provide the repetition needed to build fluency, without it feeling repeatedly boring for the learners.

To make it fun, we combined a handful of simulations into a web-based game.

Here are some of the elements we designed into the game…

Backstory. The game starts with a playful, fictional backstory, which provides a reason for needing to complete the selected tasks in the software quickly and accurately.

Missions (i.e., scenarios). For each task we needed to test learners on, we created a mission. The “mission” is basically the scenario for completing the task. A scenario that aligns with the game’s backstory. After getting through the backstory, learners encounter a menu of missions, which they can tackle in any order. To conquer the game, learners must conquer each mission.

In order to conquer a mission, learners complete the corresponding task within a specified amount of time and without exceeding an allowed number of mistakes (i.e., misclicks). We established the time limits by testing the missions with experienced users – we captured their times to complete the missions, and then we padded the times a bit to identify challenging yet attainable standards for learners who are new to the software.

Additionally, after completing the main part of a mission, the game invites learners to complete a “bonus” version of the mission. The bonus mission tests the same task, but with some added twist that makes it more advanced.

Feedback. Learners receive feedback after each mission attempt, based on their performance in that mission. The game presents the feedback in a way that fits the theme of the backstory.

Progress bar. The game includes a progress bar, which advances as learners complete missions successfully. The bar becomes progressively fancier as learners approach the end of the game.

Here’s how it’s working out so far…

Right now, learners complete the game independently, as an activity in classroom-based instructor-led training. Early feedback has been mostly positive. Learners enjoy the game, feel motivated to complete the missions, and engage in friendly competition with their classmates by comparing completion times by mission.

We anticipate working on another iteration of the game down the road, and we hope to find a way to incorporate a leader board to further foster friendly competition, especially if the game is eventually used by remote learners.

Have you enhanced a learning experience with games?

If so, how? What were the performance and instructional needs? How was a game able to help you meet those needs? And what were some of the components of your game?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Remember Recency?

By Shelley A. Gable

If you haven’t encountered it lately, it’s possible you’ve forgotten about the recency theory of learning.

Recency is the tendency to be more likely to remember information from the end of a sequence. Cognitive theorists believe that as new information enters the working memory, earlier information is pushed out. Since the information entering at the end doesn't get pushed out as quickly, the brain has more time to process and remember the later stuff.

Why does recency matter for eLearning?

I’ve seen many eLearning lessons end with reiterating a lesson’s objectives. This seems to miss the opportunity to take advantage of the recency effect. Instead, we can end eLearning lessons in ways that prompt learners to recall important information or have a meaningful moment of insight.

How can we take advantage of the recency effect?

Consider these simple approaches to concluding lessons in a way that reinforces critical knowledge and/or prompts relevant reflection…

A fill-in-the-blank slide. A really simple approach I’ve seen is to simply end an eLearning lesson with a slide that restates some of the critical information from the training, perhaps with blanks learners must fill in to prompt them to recall (and further process) that knowledge themselves. You could ask learners to fill in blanks in a bulleted list of text. Or, you could have them fill in blanks in a diagram, table, or comparative matrix.

Reflective questions to connect concepts. Another simple approach is to create a slide with a few reflective questions about the content. The questions might challenge participants to make connections between the lesson’s content and related content from earlier in training. Or, you might pose questions that ask learners how the lesson’s content supports the organization’s values (if there is a clear set of values the organization actively promotes). You could also ask learners to list specific situations in which they will apply the lesson’s content to their jobs, or how the content will help them become more successful in their jobs.

Confidence check. You might end an eLearning lesson with a slide that prompts learners to rate their level of confidence in applying newly learned knowledge to their jobs. With this approach, you might follow up with questions that prompt them to list aspects of the content that were especially easy and/or challenging. For lower confidence scores or challenging aspects of the content, you can ask learners to identify ways they can further develop those skills to improve their confidence.

Social accountability. You could take any of the approaches described above and create a sense of social accountability for learners by asking them to share their responses using some form of social media, such as internal wikis or discussion boards. Alternatively, the training might include an expectation to discuss summative learnings and reflections with a manager or trainer within a specified timeframe.

How do you take advantage of recency?

What do you typically put on the final slide of an eLearning lesson? Do you use it to take advantage of the recency effect? If so, please share examples in the comments!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Focus Time and Effort with the 80/20 Rule

By Jonathan Shoaf

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, roughly states that 80% of the results are caused by 20% of the effort. This rule is applied commonly in business situations where for example, 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients. This principle is meant to be a rule of thumb to guide decision making.

As a software developer, I use this principle.  In many cases 80% of the user's desired outcomes can be accomplished by 20% of the application. I've always believed the development process for software applications and e-learning have a lot in common. In particular, time and cost must be balanced with functionality and results.

The Pareto Principle can be used to help focus time and effort to get the outcomes most desired. Don't have time to sit in 100% of the meetings? Identify the 20% of the meetings that cover 80% of the results and spend the most time analyzing those meetings. The subject matter expert doesn't have a lot of time to give on the project? Ask them to identify the 20% that needs to be learned to cover 80% of the outcomes.

I'm not saying to ignore the other 80% that is needed to fully cover a topic. However, I am saying there are realities that may keep you from being able to spend the time you need on a topic. Identify and invest in the 20% and your learners will be prepared for 80% of the outcomes.

Here's an example of where training often fails the 80/20 rule. A new software application is implemented at your organization. You are expected to train on the application.

The vendor provides training content and you are to convert it to training. Do you know where that content comes from? Here's the process:

Functional specifications are created for a software product. These specifications cover every thing the software is functionally able to do. What the software can do is not what the user necessarily needs to do. Following the Pareto Principle, the user may only need to use 20% of the software to accomplish 80% of the tasks.

The functional specifications are turned into help and documentation. Again, covering nearly 100% of what the software can do. What the users need to do? That's still not identified.

Next the training is produced. This is where failure often occurs. Training is created based on the documentation from the vendor. The thinking is that everything needs to be covered. Its an easy trap to fall into. Considering the Pareto Principle, training poorly on 100% of the application is not as effective as training thoroughly on the most important 20% of the application.

Therefore, focus needs to be given on the 20% of the software application the learner will use to create 80% of the outcomes.

Do you apply the 80/20 rule during the instructional design process?