Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Conquer These Evil E-Learning Temptations

by Jonathan Shoaf

There are common temptations that instructional designers and e-learning developers succumb to. Resist these and your learners will thank you. Let's look at a few of the more common temptations lurking out there to torment those who partake in e-learning courses.

Temptation #1: Using a PowerPoint Mindset

The first temptation that leads to bad e-learning is using a PowerPoint presentation mindset and applying it to the e-learning world. Its tempting because the mindset is familiar, requires little thought, and takes less time. And unfortunately all those reasons are things that your manager may support. However, it stinks for your learners and results in less knowledge transfer when all is said and done.

Which do you enjoy more in a face-to-face classroom setting?

Watching a lecture with cute PowerPoint
slides while sitting in your seat.
Performing activities that lead to discovery
of knowledge through practice.

Consider that e-learning is usually taken by the same people that would be in a face-to-face classroom. Take a moment to empathize with these folks by asking the same question for an e-learning course.

When you convert PowerPoint slides directly into e-learning slides, you are simply keeping your learners bored and disengaged.

Temptation #2: Ignoring the Visuals

This temptation is difficult because words are easy but multimedia is hard. After all, we have keyboards for words. All the letters are nicely laid out and we know how to find them. Graphics, on the other hand, are hard. Many require hours of hard work or require being on site with a camera. But resist the temptation to avoid them. Remember the old adage "a picture speaks a thousand words."

Photos and graphics are very important to learners. They can set the mood for the course. They can create memories and associations for learners. Besides, learners get barraged with enough words already through corporate email, HR and IT notices, job aids, and memos.

Find and use multimedia. Here are a few things you can do to get in the habit of using more graphics:
  • Buy graphics! Stop being cheap and subscribe to a multimedia library like You learners will thank you!
  • Use PowerPoint or other simple tools to create simple graphics and visuals.
  • Don't be afraid of the camera. Start snapping. Make a library of photos you can use in all projects. Make a special trip to take photos for individual projects.

Temptation #3: Getting Approval from the Wrong "Right" Person

You are dependent on the subject matter expert.  But the SME you are assigned to work with may not understand how learning works, the importance of the project, or the fact that you know nothing about their area of expertise. Frankly, the person may not even care about the final outcome of the project. The temptation may be to get approval from this person because they are assigned to your project. However, your learners will thank you if you find someone who really has their best interest in mind.

Trust your intuition and experience to tell you whether or not you are getting the feedback you need. Try the following techniques to make sure you get the appropriate person to look at your project:
  • The SME tends to agree with everything - then engage them further to see if they really have looked at it. Trust but verify that they are doing their part. You don't want any surprises at the end of the project.
  • The SME seems disinterested - you will have to be extra persistent. If they simply aren't giving you the time you need ask them who would be good to delegate the task to.
  • Talk to some of the managers of your target learners - What do they think is important to cover? Do they agree with the SME? If not, arrange a quick group meeting to get everyone on the same page.

Temptation #4: Assuming the e-Learning will work Perfectly

Most e-learning development tools you'll use will have several ways to "play" the content.  Let's take Adobe Captivate as an example. You can play a page right in the editing tool, you can test several pages at a time, or you can test the whole project. Plus, you can publish the project to test. Over time you'll find that the project may not work the same in all of those scenarios. Ultimately, you want to test a fully published project independent of the development tool.  Even better, test the project directly in the LMS to verify the scoring, completion, and any advanced tinkering you've done works.

Resist the temptation to assume if it works for you, it works for everyone else. Here are some things in particular you should test for each project:
  • The Learner's Navigation - If the learner takes a course but can't complete it, you've got a major problem. Test the navigation to make sure the learner can get to where they need to go. This includes any next and previous buttons, home buttons, and access to the quiz or survey.
  • Quizzing - The learner needs to get the score they earn and it needs to be reported correctly to the LMS. In particular, test to make sure the course completion is set correctly depending on the quiz results.
  • Animations and Audio Syncing - The animations should match the audio. Avoid the temptation to skip through the audio. Listen to it and verify the animations take place. Make sure animations are not inadvertently paused by other elements on the page like buttons waiting for a click event (Captivate users know what I'm talking about).
  • Links and Attached Files - Don't disappoint the learner with a broken link. Links may not work like you expect them once a project is published or put on the LMS. Who among us hasn't accidentally linked to a file on your computer? Make sure the URLs are accurate and open up in a NEW window if required. Make sure attached files are included in the imsmanifest and SCORM package being uploaded to the LMS.
What bad habits tempt you?

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