Thursday, December 18, 2014

This Is How I Draft an eLearning Lesson

By Shelley A. Gable

You’ve completed your analysis. And, you’ve designed a course, which consists of several lessons. So, you’re at the point where you’re about to start drafting lesson materials.

How do you approach an individual lesson?

For instance, do you start writing the lesson introduction and work your way through to the end? Do you start with certain types of content? And, at what point do you write assessment questions (when applicable)?

Personally, I sketch the lesson activities and assessment questions first.

Suppose I have a lesson with a few objectives. Each objective specifies a behavior, which I need learners to perform at some point during the lesson. And most of the time, I need to later test them on those same behaviors. Therefore, I should test those behaviors in a way that’s consistent with how learners practiced them in training.

Since this much is a given, this is where I like to start.

I grab a piece of scratch paper (kind of old school, I know), and I loosely divide it into three columns.

In the left column, I abbreviate the lesson objectives.

I use the middle column to jot down notes about the hands-on activities I’ll use to prompt learners to perform each objective’s behavior. Simulation? Resolving scenarios? Something else?

Though I don’t write out the full activity in that middle column, I make notes about key components to incorporate. Perhaps specific types of details to include in a scenario, or coaching-oriented reminders to call out when writing feedback.

In the right column, I figure out how to set up corresponding assessment questions. Sometimes I can make the assessment question almost identical to the activity (e.g., using similarly structured scenario-based questions). Sometimes I need to figure out a variation, due to assessment tool limitations. Of course, the aim is for the objectives, activities, and on-the-job behaviors to align as closely as possible.

When I put fingers to keyboard to type the actual lesson materials, I create in this order:
  1. Write activities.
  2. Write assessment questions.
  3. Write content that goes between the activities (e.g., references to job aids, explanations, etc.).
  4. Write lesson introduction and summary.

Why this approach?

For me, this keeps me focused on the objectives so learners have ample opportunity to practice the stated behaviors. It helps me make sure that learners spend a larger proportion of the lesson time doing rather than being told. It helps me better differentiate critical versus nice to know information. And, it helps ensure alignment.

Granted, this sequence might not work well for everyone. And, I realize that most instructional design models suggest starting with the assessment questions. However, this is the approach that works for me.

How does it compare to your approach?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

4 Ways to Jump Start an eLearning Lesson

By Shelley A. Gable

I’ve heard learners criticize eLearning lessons that have too much “extra” stuff at the beginning.

Think about all the material that some lessons place before the actual content: title slide, copyright and/or confidentiality statements, navigation instructions, learning objectives, etc. It can potentially add up to a lot of extra clicks (that learners may or may not actually pay attention to), which gets the activity off to a somewhat sluggish start.

Next time you create an eLearning lesson, consider placing meaningful content immediately after (or maybe even before) the title slide.

Here are a few approaches to think about…

--1-- Make information that isn’t part of the course content available via buttons. For instance, you might have a “Navigation Help” button that’s always available at the top or bottom of the screen. And a “Confidentiality” button, for example. That way, this information is accessible to learners without setting a bland tone for the lesson.

--2-- Place learning objectives after a compelling story or challenge. Opening the lesson with a story or scenario places learners in a meaningful context and may spark curiosity for what their tasks in the training will be. This presents the objectives as the logical next step in the learning experience, instead of simply being a series of dry statements at the beginning.

--3-- Start with a relevantly designed splash page to inspire interest. When I say splash page, I’m envisioning a short multimedia blurb (shorter than a minute; perhaps under 30 seconds) that begins when a learner launches the lesson. It comes even before a title slide. I’ve seen some organizations use splash pages to display their branding in a high-energy way, but why not design it with visuals and audio that offer a glimpse into the upcoming content?

--4-- Make the title slide multitask. For example, an informal pre-quiz can be an effective way to acknowledge what learners already know about a topic, while also making them aware of what they don’t know, to help prime them for upcoming content. If you create a pre-quiz that is informal and short, you might put it right on the title side. Another approach to leveraging a title slide for content: include a brief introduction to a character that appears in the first story or scenario. Or, include the first couple of lines from that story or scenario, if they’re written in a way that would motivate learners to continue reading. However, a word of caution: careful visual design is crucial with this approach, as a cluttered title slide could overwhelm learners.

What techniques do you use to connect learners to content as promptly as possible in an eLearning lesson?

Have you placed meaningful content before a title slide? Have you placed content on a title slide? Have you tried other approaches?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Making a Game Out of Software Simulations

By Shelley A. Gable

I recently worked on a lengthy course that included a lot of software training. The intent of the training was not only to introduce learners to the software, but also to build fluency with several key tasks.

Of course, building fluency requires practice. So, one of the challenges with designing the training was figuring out how to provide the repetition needed to build fluency, without it feeling repeatedly boring for the learners.

To make it fun, we combined a handful of simulations into a web-based game.

Here are some of the elements we designed into the game…

Backstory. The game starts with a playful, fictional backstory, which provides a reason for needing to complete the selected tasks in the software quickly and accurately.

Missions (i.e., scenarios). For each task we needed to test learners on, we created a mission. The “mission” is basically the scenario for completing the task. A scenario that aligns with the game’s backstory. After getting through the backstory, learners encounter a menu of missions, which they can tackle in any order. To conquer the game, learners must conquer each mission.

In order to conquer a mission, learners complete the corresponding task within a specified amount of time and without exceeding an allowed number of mistakes (i.e., misclicks). We established the time limits by testing the missions with experienced users – we captured their times to complete the missions, and then we padded the times a bit to identify challenging yet attainable standards for learners who are new to the software.

Additionally, after completing the main part of a mission, the game invites learners to complete a “bonus” version of the mission. The bonus mission tests the same task, but with some added twist that makes it more advanced.

Feedback. Learners receive feedback after each mission attempt, based on their performance in that mission. The game presents the feedback in a way that fits the theme of the backstory.

Progress bar. The game includes a progress bar, which advances as learners complete missions successfully. The bar becomes progressively fancier as learners approach the end of the game.

Here’s how it’s working out so far…

Right now, learners complete the game independently, as an activity in classroom-based instructor-led training. Early feedback has been mostly positive. Learners enjoy the game, feel motivated to complete the missions, and engage in friendly competition with their classmates by comparing completion times by mission.

We anticipate working on another iteration of the game down the road, and we hope to find a way to incorporate a leader board to further foster friendly competition, especially if the game is eventually used by remote learners.

Have you enhanced a learning experience with games?

If so, how? What were the performance and instructional needs? How was a game able to help you meet those needs? And what were some of the components of your game?