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.

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

Solution
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!

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