Thursday, June 24, 2010

Anatomy of an eLearning Lesson: Nine Events of Instruction

By Shelley A. Gable

You’re tasked with outlining an eLearning lesson. You’ve analyzed your content and audience, and you have a clear understanding of what learners need to be able to do by the end of the lesson.

But how do you avoid designing a lesson that’s little more than a basic info dump?

How do you truly engage learning?

A handful of instructional design models offer formulas for assembling training in a way that captures learners’ attention, conveys content, and provides learners with an opportunity to practice and receive feedback on new skills. One of the more popular models is Robert Gagne’s nine events of instruction.

Here are the events:
  1. Gain attention
    Spark learners’ interest and curiosity to motivate learning

  2. Inform learners of objectives
    State training objectives or goals to communicate expectations

  3. Stimulate recall
    Include questions or an activity to engage existing knowledge to which learners can relate new content

  4. Present content
    Present the new content learners must learn, preferably with a variety of media

  5. Provide learning guidance
    Elaborate on presented content by telling stories, explaining examples and non-examples, offering analogies, etc.

  6. Elicit performance (practice)
    Prompt learners to practice using newly learned skills and knowledge

  7. Provide feedback
    Provide immediate and specific feedback to learners while they practice, to help shape their behavior to improve performance

  8. Assess performance
    Test learners on newly learned skills and knowledge to confirm that they’ve met the originally stated training objectives or goals

  9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job
    Provide support to ensure learners apply newly learned knowledge and skills on the job (e.g., post-training follow-up plans, job aids, etc.)

Although you may encounter situations when it’s not practical to include all of these steps in training, and sometimes you might apply these steps in a different order, this formula provides the basic structure you need to begin designing training that goes beyond basic communication.

Let’s look at an example of how this formula can be applied to a short eLearning lesson. This lesson is part of a larger eLearning course designed to teach experienced support staff in a small lending firm how to conduct quality control checks on mortgage applications. The purpose of this particular lesson is to teach learners how to identify errors.

-1- Gain attention
Prompt learners to guess the percent of mortgage applications that have errors (could set up as a multiple choice or free response question). After learners attempt to guess, reveal the alarming statistic. Then briefly explain to learners that they can dramatically decrease that number, and outline some of the positive impacts of catching errors.

-2- Inform learners of objectives
State: After completing this lesson, you will be able to identify errors on Application 1487B.

Note that this is not the standard three-part objective (behavior, criterion, condition) that we should write when outlining the course. Although opinions on this vary, many believe that it is not necessary to present the entire objective to learners and that a simple purpose statement is sufficient.

-3- Stimulate recall
Prompt learners to identify the types of application errors they’ve heard about (could set up as a multiple response question). Ask learners to recall the consequences of those errors (could set up as a free response or matching question).

-4 & 5- Present content and provide learning guidance
Guide learners through the application, and explain how each section should be completed. Provide multiple examples of correct entries and common mistakes. When appropriate, ask questions to prompt learners to anticipate these examples based on their experience.

-6 & 7- Elicit performance (practice) and provide feedback
Present practice exercises in which learners identify errors (or the lack thereof) on sample applications. Provide immediate feedback to learners about the correctness of their responses, and provide hints as needed.

Practice exercises can be peppered throughout the presentation of content and learning guidance to break up the sections of the application. A final practice exercise could be handled as a game where the learner receives points for correct responses and is challenged to earn a certain number of points.

-8- Assess performance
Include a formal assessment at the end where the learner audits a few applications with varying types of errors. Provide learners with feedback after submitting the assessment and offer remediation as needed.

-9- Enhance retention and transfer to the job
Point learners to a job aid they can use on the job, and tell them where they can go with questions. Ensure that learners begin auditing applications shortly after they complete the training. If possible, assign learners to coaches who can check their early work and provide feedback.

In order to maximize training’s success, you must complement a model like this with instructional tactics that align with adult learning principles. Using this basic framework to begin designing an eLearning lesson can help ensure that you’ve included these critical components in your training.

Click here for another Anatomy of an eLearning Lesson: Merrill's First Principles.

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