Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A New Year’s Resolution: Remove the Fluff from eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

Think about the elements you included in your last eLearning project. The content you included. The types of activities you designed.

If you had to offer business justification for each slide and activity in your eLearning lesson to your client, could you consistently make a compelling case?

Word searches, crossword puzzles, hang man – I see these games in eLearning from time to time. While some may use them to review terminology, I can’t think of an example of when these activities would be the best way to reinforce that knowledge.

Learning theories suggest that we ought to introduce and review new knowledge in ways that:
  • Relate to what we already know (which is why Gagne’s model prompts us to stimulate recall early in a lesson), for the sake of making the information meaningful and easier to recall later

  • Include the context of when learners will apply it on the job, so that real-life triggers will help learners recall the knowledge when it’s needed

Generally speaking, I’m not sure that word searches, crossword puzzles, or hang man are reliable methods for accomplishing the bullets above.

Another offender is knowledge checks that quiz basic recall.

Does this formula sound familiar? A few slides that present content, followed by a couple quiz-like knowledge check questions…a few more slides that present content, followed by a couple quiz-like knowledge check questions…and then some more slides that present content, followed by a couple of those quiz-like knowledge check questions…you get the idea.

And if you felt a little bored reading that last paragraph, we can probably assume that learners feel similarly when completing that type of eLearning lesson.

Not only is it potentially boring, but this type of structure often lacks on-the-job context.

A simple alternative is to plug in a scenario.

A lesson might begin with a situation or problem that occurs on the job. The lesson can walk through the scenario, pointing out how various facts and procedures contribute to the resolution. If learners have enough knowledge on the subject prior to completing the lesson, we might prompt them to predict next steps or use their resources (e.g., manual, electronic performance support, etc.) to discover the information needed to resolve the situation.

After working through a basic scenario, we might pose “what if” questions to explore variations of the situation and introduce additional information to aid in problem solving.

Then, instead of asking knowledge check questions that prompt learners to recall facts, we can pose scenario-based questions that require learners to apply knowledge in order to resolve the situation appropriately. Incorrect responses can result in feedback that explains realistic on-the-job consequences and hints at the correct resolution.

And if we can allow them to practice variations of the scenario, that’s even better.

If every slide and activity in an eLearning lesson includes a portion of a realistic workplace situation that is critical to learners’ jobs, making that compelling case consistently should be relatively easy.

What else needs to go?

Are there other elements of eLearning that you view as “fluff?” What are they? And what should we do instead?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! Hangman and word searches - with kids or adults - are a waste of time. Thanks for challenging us to provide more. But fluff is too nice a word. ;)


Thank you for your comments.