Thursday, September 29, 2011

Emphasizing Noteworthy Content in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

I was part of a team last year that worked on a large eLearning course, which consisted of several hours of eLearning lessons that learners completed over a four-week period. Interestingly, we received feedback that learners were taking excessive notes.

Apparently, the lessons did not provide the cues necessary to help learners distinguish what they ought to jot down versus content they could easily look up later when needed.

Naturally, this prompted us to rethink how to help learners take notes productively.

So how can we provide this guidance to learners?

We know that we should limit training to “must know” information, eliminating the “nice to know” stuff that does not directly impact learners’ ability to perform the objectives. This helps reduce information overload while keeping learners focused on job-related tasks.

However, even after filtering extraneous information from training, learners still should only have to make occasional notes for later. Even if all information in a course is critical, designers still need to find ways to highlight what learners may or may not need to note.

Below are some ideas for providing this type of support in eLearning.

Expectations. In situations where learners will have access to job aids and manuals for reference later, state at the beginning of training that the purpose of the course is to teach them how to use those resources. Explicitly state that they are not expected to memorize course content. Design training activities that prompt learners to refer to job aids while practicing tasks during training, and inform learners of how they can access those same job aids after training completion.

Highlights. If a step in a procedure or cautionary tip is particularly noteworthy, highlight it visually. This can be as simple as placing that text in a colored box on the slide, to make it stand out from other elements on the slide. You could also create a standard icon or label to associate with these occasional critical points, so learners know to pull out the notepad when they encounter those symbols.

Reminders. Even if you inform learners that job aids and other resources will be available after training, remind them periodically throughout training. For instance, when introducing a new procedure, briefly remind learners that the steps are outlined in an accessible job aid; therefore, there is no need to write the steps down.

Structure. You can attempt to limit unnecessary note taking by offering learners a structure for taking targeted notes. For instance, you might offer limited space within a slide for learners to pick out one important point – this is especially handy if the lesson allows learners to print these notes or email notes to themselves. One instructional designer I worked with created a form that prompted learners to record a small number of important points from an entire lesson, which encouraged them to identify a few of the most critical pieces of content.

Scenario-Focus. Training that teaches content in the context of working a scenario can also help limit unnecessary note taking. If learners are consulting job aids and other available resources while learning new tasks, they can easily see what is outlined clearly in the job aid and differentiate that from an undocumented reminder worth capturing in their notes. This distinction can seem less clear when learners are presented with slides packed with information prior to attempting a task themselves.

The intent is to support, not limit.

In sharing these ideas, my intent isn’t to suggest that learners shouldn’t take notes. For some, note taking offers an effective way to reinforce content. Many people say they remember information better if they write it themselves. However, in the specific eLearning course I mentioned earlier in this post, note taking reached record levels, suggesting that we could do a better job of creating focus.

If reading this post sparked other ideas related to this topic, please share!

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