Saturday, November 28, 2009

4 Tips to help your training feel "Alive"

by Jonathan Shoaf

I'm sure you've seen the advertisements for the new Motorola Droid phones. The makers of the phone have gone through a lot of effort to make the phone appear alive and intelligent. One of the things they do is place a pulsating eye on the phone on start up with a voice that says "Droid". The phone gives you feedback everytime you receive a text message or e-mail. When you click on an icon to start an app, the icon's background is highlighted to let you know it received your touch. When you click on the buttons at the bottom of the phone, there is a slight vibration that does the same.

So how do you make something appear alive? If you research characteristics of living things you find a variety of answers that all roughly explain the same attributes like reproduction, growth, energy usage, and being responsive to the environment. This post will focus on how you can make your training feel more alive by making the training environment more responsive to the learner.

Of course, well designed training will always trump usability. Never the less, usability is extremely important and there are things that can be done to make your learners feel more comfortable with your content. My mantra has always been "less is more" and most of the time that has been a very effective strategy when it comes to usability. Be judicial as you use these tips to improve the experience your learner has with your content.

The training environment still feels flat, too mechanical, or dead

Breath some life into your training environment with these tips

#1 - Respond to learner actions

When the learner hovers over a button, bring it to life. This may be a simple color change or underline. You can do this with style sheets or Javascript. Even better, have a glowing button that pulsates into a warm glow as the user hovers over it. You will need Flash for that. The same applies for all interactive elements in the training content. Do things to let the learner know that the training is listening and anticipating their next action.

#2 - Use transitions consistently and effectively

Transitions can make your content feel alive and responsive instead of just another slide in a predestined slideshow. I use the fade in or fade out transitions a lot. Fly ins are also a common transition that can be visually appealing. Many popular authoring tools like Lectora and Captivate provide good transitioning options. One caveat, remember that when implemented poorly, transitions can be more distracting than helpful.

#3 - Reward exploration

What does that image in the upper right corner mean? What happens if I hover over it? Put in content that rewards your learners for being curious and encourages them to discover everything on the page. Use hover and click events to revel bonus learning material that may not be necessary for the course objectives but is a nice enrichment of the material. Learners that want to go beyond the existing material will have the opportunity through exploration of content on the page. These learners will become your biggest evangelists as they learn to appreciate the enrichment opportunities "hidden" in the content.

#4 - Feedback, feedback, feedback

Always give your user feedback. This includes feedback on where they are in the content, feedback on the completion status of sections, corrective feedback when they have not fully completed an activity or a section, and for goodness sake, remedial feedback when they miss a question or perform incorrectly in a simulation. E-Learning without feedback is truly in the non-living category!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Do Your eLearning Lessons Appeal to a Variety of Learning Styles?

By Shelley A. Gable

I took a course on learning styles a few years ago. The instructor pointed out that training practitioners tend to design instruction that caters to their own dominant learning styles. Although this may be the most comfortable approach for the one designing the training, it may result in some learners being left behind.

The point? Avoid the pitfall of designing to your own preferences - make sure you've incorporated instructional methods that appeal to a wide variety of learning styles.

Learning styles have to do with how people perceive and process new information. Since everyone's brains are wired differently (which explains the great variety of personality types among those we know), training must appeal to a variety of learning styles in order to be effective for varied audiences.

While writing this post, I opted to google "learning styles," and the first result on the list took me to a page that describes sensory modalities (i.e., visual, auditory, kinesthetic). Much research has been conducted about the role of those modalities in learning, and this seems to be one of the most widely familiar learning style models among training practitioners. In the table below, I've defined each of the modalities and suggested how each can be incorporated into an eLearning lesson.

Learning Modality + Definition

Use in eLearning

Visual = learning by observation and seeing information

Text, informative images, video demonstrations

Auditory = learning by listening to information or saying information aloud

Audio, discussion assignment in which the learner is required to discuss information with a manager or peer

Kinesthetic = learning by engaging in hands-on activities

Simulations, on-the-job task assignments

While the role of modalities in learning is important to consider, other learning style models can offer additional insights. A model that I'm partial to is the one developed by Anthony Gregorc, which explains how people perceive and organize information.

  • When it comes to perception, styles are categorized as either concrete or abstract. Someone with a concrete style relies most on physical senses for perceiving the world, while an abstract style tends to perceive through the less tangible means of emotion and intuition.
  • For organization, the categories are sequential and random. Those who are sequential tend to organize information in a linear way, whereas a random individual tends to organize information in a way that may appear to jump around more.

In Gregorc's model, a learning style consists of a perception-organization combination. Examining the characteristics of these styles not only helps you to better understand the varying ways in which people learn, but it can also aid in brainstorming instructional elements that cater to a variety of style types. In the table below, I've listed some of the characteristics of each combination and suggested instructional elements that can be used to appeal to each in an eLearning lesson.

Style Type + Characterization

Appealing eLearning Elements

Concrete Sequential = naturally structured, detail-oriented, precise, perfectionist tendencies

Simulations, clear step-by-step instructions, concrete examples

Abstract Sequential = logical, scientific, intellectual, curious

Links to additional “nice to know” information, quotes/examples from experts or positions of authority, open-ended questions

Abstract Random = relationship-oriented, subjective, imaginative, conceptual

Branching (i.e., allow learners to choose their own path through the eLearning lesson), social media, humor

Concrete Random = intuitive, impulsive, optimistic, innovative

Branching, problem-solving exercises, non-linear simulations

Admittedly, the summary provided here of Gregorc's model is oversimplified. However, it should give you a sense of the type of insight it provides into how people learn differently from one another.

What's the point of all this? To ensure that an eLearning lesson appeals to a broad audience, avoid the pitfall of designing to your own preferences - make sure you've incorporated instructional methods that appeal to a wide variety of learning styles.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Are You Doing to Motivate Learning?

by Shelley A. Gable

We all know that attitudes toward training vary greatly in the workplace. Some people seize every professional development opportunity possible and are always eager to learn something new. Many are less enthusiastic.

Why are some people less enthusiastic? The reasons are numerous...and even those of us who work in the training field have probably felt less than enthusiastic about some training we've had to complete (I know I have!). Common gripes I've heard include:
  • Disinterest in the topic
  • Boredom with the presentation
  • Feeling that the training isn't as important as the work they should be doing during that time
  • Not seeing how the training will help them in their job

Of course, we also know that if people don't feel confident in their ability to master the training content, a common reaction is to be resistant to the training.

Clearly, we should do something to overcome these gripes and motivate people to learn. But how do you motivate people to learn? John Keller answers this question in several articles he has written about his ARCS model. ARCS is an acronym that represents four components of motivation in training: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction. Each of these components is briefly defined below.
  • Attention: Capturing and maintaining learners' curiosity and interest
  • Relevance: Meeting learners' individual needs and goals
  • Confidence: Helping learners feel that they can be successful
  • Satisfaction: Reinforcing learners' accomplishments

So now what? How can these motivators be designed into an eLearning module? Fortunately, some of these things are simple touches that can easily be worked into the training. Below are a few techniques I've seen in my organization. You can click on the table below to enlarge it.

After I've storyboarded an eLearning module, I'll often go back through to identify places where I could work in something motivational. Considering how effective these basic motivational tactics can be, the extra step seems to be time well spent.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Add a Touch of Style to Lectora

Most web developers use CSS to specify how they want each web page element to look on their web site. They can control things like text color, font, margins, and all sorts of other attributes of elements. For example they may want all paragraphs to have a 10 pixel margin. This is done using CSS.

Hyperlinks by default are underlined and blue. While this is a standard and is universally recognized, there are times in which blue underline does not look appropriate in your project. Using CSS you can change this. If you are familiar with CSS you'll know to include a style sheet in your web page or use the <style> element in the header of your page. So how do you do this in your e-learning using Lectora?

Let's take a look.

  • Ability to use Lectora to add images and create hyperlinks

To do this, you need to understand the power behind the external HTML object in Lectora. This object allows you to do many, many things if you know HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. You use this object to add HTML such as an embedded video or other object (links to my google calendar), and yes, you use it to add style to your project.

I've set up a page with a top navigation bar that contains three links to the home page, the help page, and to exit the project. After adding the hyperlinks, I removed the underline and changed the text color to white. Now you are ready to add the CSS to show an underline when the user hovers over the links.

1. Add an External HTML object to the page.

2. Give it an object type of Meta tags. This will place the CSS code in the header of the underlying HTML page.

3. Add the following CSS code in the Custom HTML field:

<style type="text/css">

a:hover {
  text-decoration: underline;
  color: white;


That's it. Now when you preview the project in HTML, you'll see the underlines appear when you hover over the hyperlinks.

You may find yourself wanting to do something more advanced on the hover event. For example, you may want to show a pop-up message. This is possible in Lectora using JavaScript. I'll save that topic for another day.