By Shelley A. Gable
As technology continues to command an increasingly prevalent role in our lives, it seems that our brains still respond better to a human touch. We can use this knowledge to help improve recall from eLearning lessons.
I’m in the midst of reading e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer (it’s really a must-read for anyone who designs instruction). One chapter describes studies that suggest that including coach-like characters in eLearning and similar on-screen agents benefits learning.
Reading this chapter reminded me of a study I heard about a while back, in which subjects completed an online lesson on a health-related topic. While completing the lesson, subjects were asked questions and prompted to type out responses. Group #1 was told that an actual person received their responses during the course, while Group #2 was told that they were simply interacting with a computer. In reality, both groups were interacting with a computer only. Post-test results showed that Group #2 performed better. The researchers hypothesized that the perception of social interaction benefitted learning. (For the record, I think I heard about this on NPR, though I couldn’t track down the story when I tried finding it for this post.)
So how can we add a human element to eLearning lessons?
Consider these approaches…
Present eLearning from the perspective of a coach. Rather than simply displaying words on a page, introduce a coach type of character who serves as the narrator, being the voice of presented information and activity feedback.
For example, the coach might be a manager who needs the learner to help accomplish a challenge. A few years ago, I designed an eLearning lesson about insurance options. The main character was a manager who needed someone to help her answer customers’ questions about insurance. The eLearning lesson conveyed information as though she was teaching it to the learner. When the learner responded to knowledge check questions, the manager provided feedback and any needed coaching.
Or, you might make the main character an experienced employee who takes the role of mentoring the learner. In some ways, the approach could be similar to the example described with a manager. Additionally, you could create challenges in which the learner competes against the experienced colleague. For instance, if a performance requirement is to complete a task within a specific amount of time, you might prompt the learner to compete with the other character (e.g., Abby can do it in 30 seconds – can you beat her time?).
Provide the learner with a collaborator. The main character within an eLearning lesson could be someone who needs to learn along with the learner. Perhaps a fellow new employee or other acquaintance.
For example, a lesson that introduces learners to the mortgage industry might include a character who is about to buy a house for the first time. The lesson challenges the two of them – the learner and the fictional first-time homebuyer – to learn about the industry together. The “telling” information in the lesson could be knowledge the homebuyer already possesses and is sharing with the learner. Then, the homebuyer poses specific questions to the learner, which the learner answers based on reviewing job aids or other available resources. Feedback to knowledge checks might take the form of the homebuyer agreeing that a response sounds right (for correctly answered knowledge checks) or that something still doesn’t make sense, with a suggestion of something else to consider (for coaching in response to incorrectly answered knowledge checks).
Make interactions feel personable. There are many ways to do this. For instance, write eLearning content in a conversational tone, rather than a formal, textbook-like tone. Even feedback for knowledge checks can feel more relatable when written somewhat informally (consider saying “Are you sure?” or “That doesn’t sound quite right” instead of “Incorrect”). The chapter mentioned earlier in e-Learning and the Science of Instruction also offers advice for making eLearning feel more personable, from using polite language to animating avatars to use natural gestures.
How have you done this?
If you’ve used any of the approaches above, please share your experiences! What was the situation? How did you approach it? What advice can you share? And, if you happen to be familiar with the unidentified study described toward the beginning of this post, I’d appreciate being pointed to the source!