Sunday, April 14, 2013

Engage Learners Emotionally in eLearning Experiences

By Shelley A. Gable

What was the last book you couldn’t put down? The last movie you couldn’t stop talking about? The last song you found yourself playing repeatedly?

While you may feel drawn to each of these for different reasons, chances are, you have emotional connections to them all. Perhaps you found one of them profoundly relatable. Maybe one was uplifting. Maybe another surged your adrenaline. Regardless of the nature of that connection, you likely felt engaged and the experience with it was memorable.

How can we create these emotionally engaging experiences in eLearning?

Inspiring engagement doesn’t require an investment in high-end video production. Rather, a simple yet compelling story can help emotionally engage learners with the content, creating a motivational and memorable learning experience. These stories can also create a challenge that permeates an entire course or lesson. Consider some of the suggestions below.

Create a story with good guys and bad guys.

I recently reviewed training a colleague created on a security-related topic. The training opened with a short story about a thief. It conveyed what the thief intended to steal, how, and the likely consequences for the victims. The learner was then challenged to use the skills learned in training to protect the victims by preventing the theft from occurring.

The rest of the training built on the opening story by applauding learners when their correct choices improved security and protected the would-be victims. Similarly, feedback for incorrect choices illustrated how the suboptimal action helped the thief by making the potential victims vulnerable.

This good guy versus bad guy type of story could apply to a variety of skill and knowledge topics. And, the “bad guy” doesn’t always have to be another person. The “bad guy” could be more conceptual, such as difficult environmental conditions, confusing processes, or day-to-day inconveniences.

Teach exemplar behaviors through employee recognition.

Imagine starting a lesson with an actual story of a customer service representative – let’s call her Janie – who received a rave review from a customer who provided feedback on a particular interaction. The lesson might start with the customer’s kind words and how Janie felt about receiving the recognition. The lesson could then challenge learners to earn the high praise Janie received by following her stellar example. The rest of the lesson might provide performance guidance and feedback in Janie’s voice, offering insight into how experienced, high-performing peers approach – and even think about – the tasks taught in the lesson.

Provide testimonials that boost the content’s credibility.

A few years ago, I briefly contributed to a project that involved redesigning instructor-led training on coaching skills for self-paced, eLearning delivery. Coaching, like many soft skills, is one of those topics that have a lot of models and “how to” books in the marketplace. Many of the approaches out there seem like common sense. Thus, I can understand why experienced supervisors may not feel eager to embrace the behaviors taught in training, especially if the organization hasn’t communicated a compelling reason for them to do so.

In this project, we created a series of eLearning lessons, with a short lesson (i.e., 30 minutes or less) dedicated to each major coaching skill in the coaching model. At the beginning of each lesson, we included a short video testimonial of someone describing their success with that lesson’s skill. We asked the storytellers to describe a specific situation where they used the new skill successfully and to predict how the situation may have ended differently if they hadn’t applied the new skill. The intent was to ensure that the testimonials felt realistic and actionable, in hopes of building credibility and interest for the content that followed.

How do you engage learners emotionally in eLearning experiences?

The examples above are just a few approaches I’ve encountered for engaging learners emotionally in eLearning experiences. What approaches have you designed?


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Do you know your E-learning Buckets?

By Jonathan Shoaf

I've discovered recently I don't like the term e-learning. This is because I recently had to go through the process of understanding what salary you pay someone who is an e-learning developer. It turns out that it varies dramatically depending on who you ask. This is because everyone has a different idea of what e-learning is and what it takes to develop it.

So if you tell me you are an e-learning expert, it means nothing to me. You could be a beginning Captivate user creating a self-paced page turner, you could be a Flash developer melding ActionScript and Javascript to communicate with an LMS, or you could be an instructor maxing out whiteboards and breakout rooms in Adobe Connect to synchronously engage learners. The term e-learning covers a wide swath of teaching and learning using digital media.

E-learning needs to be categorized in different buckets depending on what the needs of the learner are. When I evaluate learning needs in my organization, here are some of the e-learning buckets I think about.

Self-Paced Learning
Self-paced learning content is typically consumed by learners at their own pace and time. It is a great way to get learning out to a large audience and can save time and money over traditional face-to-face learning. It is often the bane of the learning community because everyone has experienced a bad disengaging page turner that puts them to sleep. But when done right it can be a very good option for the learner.

Online Classroom
An online classroom offers many of the same benefits as face-to-face learning but it can be done remotely for a geographically dispersed group. In my experience this is one of the cheapest and quickest e-learning options.

Performance Support Systems
Electronic performance support systems provide just-in-time knowledge to learners who either don't have the time for other learning options. Also known as an EPSS, this type of system is great to house knowledge that is only used in rare cases.

Simulations are a great way to introduce learners to a real work environment where they can learn and experiment without fear of adverse consequences. Simulations can also be used as an EPSS when a learner needs to know something about the system but doesn't have access to a real system to test.

Knowledge Management Systems
Knowledge management is a collection of information for employees to learn from. In the past I've used systems like wikis, Lotus Notes, and SharePoint to serve as knowledge management systems. These systems contain documents or other multimedia that learners can access any time as needed.

Social and Collaborative Learning
Social learning environments are great ways for employees or experts to collaborate with each other and share experiences. Social environments I used a lot include Linked In and Twitter. I have found that organizations have been very slow to adopt these environment internally. I think this is an opportunity for the future.

Multimedia is a critical area for e-learning. It spans over every other bucket. Videos, animations, graphics, and audio can convey knowledge in ways that learners can grasp. In fact, videos can almost stand on their own as an e-learning option for a lot of projects.

What would you add to the e-learning bucket list?