Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Let Learners Make Mistakes in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

A few years ago, I was a co-researcher on a study that investigated the factors that influence informal workplace learning. The literature on the subject frequently references learning from mistakes as a typical form of informal learning.

So how can we leverage this natural way of learning in eLearning lessons?

Nudge learners to assess their responses. I recently saw this in an eLearning lesson a colleague created. The lesson prompted learners to answer a scenario-based question. After submitting the answer, an initial round of feedback suggested a couple of factors learners should have considered when responding and asked them to assess whether their responses were on the right track. Learners then had an opportunity to modify their responses or continue. This seemed like a clever way to prompt learners to reflect on their learning and potentially recognize mistakes themselves.

Show the consequences of decisions. Suppose an eLearning lesson teaches sales skills, and a scenario-based question challenges learners to present a product’s benefits to a customer. Instead of simply telling learners whether they presented the benefits correctly or incorrectly, follow their response with how the customer replies (perhaps with a customer who expresses interest, or a reluctant no, or a stern no, for example). Then, you might ask learners to assess why the customer reacted the way he did, and/or challenge learners to use a better response to attempt to recover the situation (which is similar to what someone might think through in this type of situation in real life).

Activate incorrect paths in system simulations. I’ve encountered two main types of system simulations. One type is immersive, allowing learners to click around and explore in a simulated re-creation of a software application (or a portion of it). Another type consists of a linear path through a specific series of steps.

When creating the latter, consider easing up on the linear aspect of it. Instead, you might activate a limited number of incorrect paths that branch from the intended path. To control the cost and time required to create a branching simulation, you can opt to only allow learners to stray a few steps away from the correct path. If a learner doesn’t self-correct before reaching the end of what you opt to allow, you might display feedback that helps learners recognize what they’ve done incorrectly and/or identify the misunderstanding that may have led them astray.

With an approach like this, learners benefit from learning from their mistakes through branching, and you can still control the cost and time required to build the simulation by limiting the extent of the branching allowed.

Do you give learners opportunities to make mistakes?

If so, how did you identify what types of mistakes to allow? And how did you design those opportunities into the training? Please share!