Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Audio in eLearning...What Is Your Vote?

By Shelley A. Gable

Do you include audio narration in the eLearning lessons you develop? Why? Or why not?

I was working on a project several weeks ago where the team debated whether to include audio narration in a series of eLearning lessons. The team was split in their personal opinions. This post outlines pieces of my thought process.

Let's think about this from a learning styles perspective...

To start with the obvious, listening to an audio narration would likely appeal to those with an auditory learning style.

I've read in various sources that the majority of people are visual learners (in fact, I heard 70% in a seminar I attended a couple years ago). One of the characteristics of a visual learner is a preference for flowcharts and diagrams over text. As a designer, if I know I can use an audio narration to complement an eLearning lesson, then I can focus on using images to convey information without cluttering slides with a lot of text. So it seems that audio narration would be beneficial for the visual learner too.

To further this point, I think a lot of us have seen various statistics suggesting that people are more likely to recall information that they see and hear (as opposed to just one or the other).

And what about those tactile learners? Well, I suppose if you have simulations and other types of hands-on activities built into an eLearning lesson, any guidance could potentially be in audio form, reducing the need for learners to toggle their attention between text instructions and the task they're completing.

(If you're interested in reading another post on this blog about learning styles, click here)

Pros and Cons of Audio...from the Blogosphere

I know there are other perspectives to consider beyond learning styles, so I also opted to scan the blogosphere to see where others stood on the issue of audio narration. It appears that the jury is still out.

Why might audio be worthwhile? Some of the reasons I came across were similar to what I had thought through in considering learning style preferences. Here are some of the pros I found:
  • Appeals to the auditory learning style
  • Can be effective for walking learners through flowcharts or explaining complex images
  • Can create a sense of human touch
So why not include audio? Here are some of the "why not" reasons I found:
  • Can be distracting for learners who prefer to read content
  • Can slow down learners (since many would read faster), increasing the length of training
  • Might promote multi-tasking, if learners opt to read email or do other tasks while listening to the audio
  • Requires learners to have access to speakers and/or headsets to hear the audio
My Conclusions

When I consider all of this, it seems to me that including audio narration is move advantageous than not. From a learning styles perspective, all signs appear to point to yes. And I feel like I can explain away most of the cons:
  • Learners who find the audio distracting could opt to mute the narration and read the transcript instead (assuming this option is offered)
  • Although audio narration might slow learners down, perhaps this is a good thing...I've received feedback from a couple of projects that some learners tend to click through eLearning lessons too quickly to really absorb the information
  • If the lesson is designed in a way that strongly intertwines the narration and the images, this might deter some from multi-tasking
Unfortunately, I have no way to explain away the last "cons" bullet point. And this is what nixed the audio on the project I was working on - a very small proportion of our learners had access to speakers or headphones. Although offering a transcript is a potential workaround, it wouldn't be optimal.

So here's my vote: Unless resource constraints get in the way, it seems like including audio is the way to go.

What's your vote? And why?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Use Scenarios to Make Quiz Questions Relevant to the Job

By Shelley A. Gable

Why do we include written or computer-based quizzes in training?

First, I'll acknowledge that the ideal type of level 2 training evaluation is a skill assessment that simulates actual, observable job tasks.

That said, I'll go back to the original question: Why include quizzes in training? Here's a few reasons...

  1. A quiz can be a useful tool for taking a pulse check during training.

  2. In some cases, a quiz might be the next best type of level 2 assessment if the resources available to you don't support a more robust skill assessment.

  3. A quiz can be used to complement a skill assessment, to test for critical knowledge that might not be easily observable.

  4. Depending on the purpose of the training, a well-written quiz may be able to fully assess whether learners meet the stated objectives.

Okay, we've established that quizzes can play a productive role in training. And how well those quiz questions are written determines how productive that role is.

Writing quiz questions well isn't just about writing them clearly. It's also about making them relevant to the job.

Quiz questions are often written like trivia questions, prompting learners to simply recite facts rather than figure something out or apply knowledge in a job-related way. However, writing quiz questions in a scenario format is a relatively easy way to make them relevant to the job.

Here are a few simple examples...

Admittedly, the questions above don't change dramatically when converted into scenarios. But let's take a look at some reasons, grounded in learning theory, for why scenario-based assessment questions can be better.

  • Cognitive learning theory suggests that we're more likely to remember newly learned information more easily if it's connected to something we already know or something simple we're familiar with. Continuously tying knowledge and procedures to realistic scenarios in training helps ensure that learners associate that knowledge with the job situation it applies to.

  • In Herman Witkin's theory of Field Independent versus Field Dependent cognitive styles, he suggests that some people struggle to learn new procedures or concepts unless they're given context. He has pointed out the example of math, explaining that some students who struggle with simple math problems perform well on story problems, arguing that context makes the difference. The context provided by a scenario helps to care for this.

  • Demonstrating relevance is one of the components of John Keller's ARCS model for motivating learners. Quiz questions that leverage job-related scenarios clearly connect that knowledge to the job. More information about learner motivation is available in an earlier post (What Are You Doing to Motivate Learning?) on this blog.

Not all quiz questions work well as scenario-based questions. But in my experience, most do. As a general rule, I write all quiz questions as scenario questions. If I can't get one to work well, I'll usually run the situation past a peer before I succumb to writing the question another way.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that scenario-based questions are overrated? Or, do you agree that scenario-based questions are the way to go? And if so, do you have reasons other than what's listed here?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When Your SME Goes MIA

By Jay Lambert

At lunch today, someone was discussing problems that instructional designers frequently face while working with subject matter experts (SMEs). Don't get me wrong; there are many wonderful SMEs out there. But unfortunately there are also enough of the other variety that you see a lot of 'what to do when your SME...' type articles.

In a previous post on this blog, Pointing to the Five Moments of Learning Need, we've already talked about the SME who wants to include everything, and I mean everything, in your eLearning course. 

Today let's look at the polar opposite of that SME -- the one that gives you nothing.

You know the SME I mean. Everything looks great from the start of the project. You've had your kickoff meeting with your assigned expert. He or she seems easy to work with and leaves the meeting with a list of action items. You're feeling really good about the project. You set up a time to meet again and review the new content and the answers to your questions that the SME is gathering...

And the SME vanishes.

The meeting is postponed. When you call or e-mail, the SME either doesn't respond or says something along the lines of 'another project came up. I'll get to your questions next.' And time goes by and your project dates start to look pretty precarious.

Why does this happen?

The causes for a missing subject matter expert can be varied. Perhaps the SME:
  • Didn't get the memo
    (Management sometimes has a way of initiating a project without informing the team that it's something that actually needs to get done).
  • Never bought into the project
    (After relentlessly pursuing one SME who never responded, I finally got a confession from him that he didn't think the project was a worthwhile use of his time; talk about passive aggressive).
  • Has too many projects assigned
    (A SME we once had was working 14 projects simultaneously. 14! No wonder he was hard to find).
  • Isn't really an expert on the subject afterall and doesn't know how to get the answers
    (Occasionaly you'll be assigned a SME because he or she is available, not because they are the expert).

What can you do?

  • Verify that the SME understands and agrees with the purpose of the project.
  • Show why the project should be considered important.
  • Establish the importance of the SME role up front. Stroke that ego.
  • If the SME appears indecisive, ask if he or she thinks you should gather other people's opinions as well.

And if all else fails? Well, you can always be a pest.

Have any of your SMEs gone missing in action? How did you handle it?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Integrated Learnings Blog now on eLearning Learning

We started the Integrated Learnings: eLearning blog last year with the idea of writing simple, but informative, posts about eLearning design and development. Our topics rotate between learning theory refreshers and step-by-step techniques for popular eLearning authoring tools (Lectora, Captivate, Articulate, and others). Our one rule is that the topics have to relate to eLearning. Anything else goes on our other blog, Shared Learning.

We've been very excited with the positive feedback we've received. (Thank you, readers!) But no more than now, when we've been invited to join the eLearning Learning community.

If you are not familiar with eLearning Learning, Tony Karrer (eLearning Technology) started it as "a community collecting and organizing the best information on the web about eLearning." The site gathers articles from highly-rated bloggers around the world into one location, allowing you to browse posts easily from sources that you might not otherwise find. It provides an excellent one-stop resource for current ideas and techniques in eLearning theory, design, and development.

To check it out, click here. You'll see our Integrated Learnings: eLearning stream first, but can explore using the Search and Categories in the left margin or the blog roll on the right.

Have fun learning about eLearning! And thanks again, Tony, for this recognition.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Simple Steps to Insert a YouTube Video in Lectora

By Jay Lambert

In an earlier post on the Integrated Learnings: eLearning blog, Jonathan mentioned embedding a YouTube video in a Lectora course title. We received a few calls asking for step-by-step instructions so here they are.

Within your Lectora course, go to the page where you want the video and click the Add External HTML icon.

Lectora adds the following item to your page. Many people’s reaction is “What in the world is this?” It really doesn’t matter; it’s just a placeholder for where your video will be.

Now go to the YouTube video that you want to run in your course. In the upper right corner of the video’s YouTube page, you’ll see a URL line and an Embed line. Highlight and copy all the code on the Embed line.

Go back to Lectora and open the properties of the External HTML Object you just added. (Note that if you are using Lectora X, then the properties box automatically displays in the upper left-hand pane of your development window.)

Make sure that the Object Type is Other. Then paste the Embed code from YouTube into the Custom HTML area.

Click the Apply button for the object properties. That’s all there is to it!

Remember that you must publish the course before the video will actually display. To test the video (and your course), always publish to HTML first (there’s no need to deal with SCORM or AICC settings for your initial test).

Lectora will generate an HTML subfolder within your Lectora title’s directory. Find and open the appropriate HTML page in the subfolder and you should see the video run automatically.

I hope that these instructions are helpful. If you have any questions, please let us know.