Thursday, December 15, 2011

Avoiding eLearning that Oversimplifies

By Shelley A. Gable

I know several training folks who believe that eLearning is only appropriate for basic knowledge or procedural skills. They believe that more advanced skills, such as problem-solving, requires the individualized feedback and debriefing discussions that only a live facilitator can provide.

What do you think?

I disagree. I think that with a scenario-based design that immerses learners in realistic situations, you can teach skills more oriented to problem-solving such as negotiation, sales, and performing quality assurance reviews.

Many scenarios I’ve seen in eLearning lessons consist of a basic situation described on a single slide, with a question that prompts the learner to identify what to do next. The feedback provided tends to indicate whether the learner answered correctly, along with a simple explanation of the correct answer.

But we can get more immersive than this. And doing so isn’t always very complex.

Think in terms of a scenario that can branch in different directions – like those Choose Your Own Adventure books.

In a branching scenario, an eLearning slide only provides the start of a situation. Perhaps the first segment of a conversation or an initial glimpse into a problem. Learners are prompted to choose their next step from a few options provided. And instead of giving them feedback like “correct” or “incorrect,” their choice takes them to a slide that describes the next segment of the scenario...a segment that’s a direct consequence of the option they chose. And the scenario continues like this, over a series of several slides, until the learner reaches a successful, partially successful, or unsuccessful outcome.

In the most realistic scenarios, the options provided at each step aren’t necessarily 100% right or wrong. Instead, the options might represent realistic decisions people tend to make that are okay, good, better, and best. Since in life, we can make varying degrees of acceptable decisions (e.g., good, better, best), it makes sense to simulate these variations in eLearning scenarios so learners can experience and see the differences.

So how do you make this happen?

Your best bet is to partner with a subject matter expert (SME) to write the scenario. Although I’ve been guilty in the past of attempting to write scenarios myself for the sake of not taking up others’ time, I’ve recently re-learned the lesson of how valuable it is to partner with a SME. Not only can a SME provide the storyline, varying decision options, and consequences much more quickly than I can on my own, but content directly from a SME is likely to simulate actual workplace situations much more closely. Plus, the partnership help builds a sense of shared ownership for the training and its outcomes.

From a technical perspective, you don’t have to be an expert Flash developer to create branching scenarios. In fact, you can create branching scenarios right in PowerPoint.

How do you train advanced skills with eLearning?

Do you use branching scenarios? Games? Another approach? Please share!

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