Engaging e-learning – as easy as CSI!

Creating engaging e-learning part 3


I’ve never been really interested in computer games in the past but then, what I classed as computer games was PacMan! The only box I was interested in sitting in front of was the TV – that seemed much more fun and engrossing.

Moreover, my imagination was captured more by superb writings of great authors. I was whisked away into a dark world of love and torment of Cathy and Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights; cryptic clues, excitement and intrigue of any Tom Clancy novel; to the zany adventures of Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy …… “so-long and thanks for the fish”. I was totally absorbed and read for days on end – often into the early hours. That’s how absorbed I was. I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about in computer games.

That was until recently. Now – I’m a big CSI fan, so when I discovered a CSI game for my Wii, a team of wild horses couldn’t stop me from grabbing it. I know CSI is far fetched but it is fascinating. Well….. that was it ….. for that weekend the remote had to be prised from my hot sticky hands. I couldn’t wait for my husband to go to London so I could play unhindered and un-chastised. One time right up until 3am! Now that’s sad!

What kept me so engrossed? So engrossed I didn’t notice how long I was actually playing? It was the pure fact that I became part of the CSI team. I searched scenes of crime for any piece of possible evidence. I interviewed suspects by choosing from a selection of questions. I put the clues together, reviewed the evidence and asked Brass for search warrants. Sometimes, these warrants weren’t issued because I hadn’t enough evidence – so I had to go back and search the scenes again, interview again, review the evidence again.

What can e-learning designers learn from this? Looking further into how we can put the learning back into e-learning let’s consider that for a moment.

Well, firstly, I was dropped in at the deep end immediately. I wasn’t sat in a virtual room with pages upon pages of rules and regulations, examples and theories before I could get out at the scene. I worked through the problem, analysing and making decisions as I went. I didn’t get all the answers right and had to revisit some, occasionally having to start again. But, hey, I could afford to make mistakes – it was a safe environment.

My new skills came from my own hard work and from the feedback from my CSI mentor who was there for any assistance I may have needed (although, the stubborn competitive streak in me meant it was rarely sought). I was able to remind myself what suspects said from the personal profiles built up as they were interviewed. I was given encouragement and praise where needed which built up my desire to succeed. What I didn’t get was a multiple choice quiz at the end – phew!

Now I’m not saying this has made me a fully qualified member of the CSI team to be let loose on real scenes of crime. After all – it is only a game. Just think what we could do if we took this across into realistic work situations and absorb our learners as deeply. It CAN be done. With a little imagination. Oh, and hard work of course. But – wow – what a difference it would make.

So how can we do this if we haven’t got access to simulation gaming technology?

More and more people are realising leaving that multiple choice quiz to the end of the e-learning doesn’t exactly test application. All it does is test immediate recall. So we chop it up a bit. What tends to happen now is e-learning is divided up into smaller chunks of information followed by a little practice quiz. Yes, it is a little better but it is still providing information up front with no opportunity to analyse and apply.

If there is one thing to learn from gaming it is to allow people to think for themselves first and try things out. “That’s all very well and good” I hear you say, “but learners still need information to work with and learn from”. This is true but it will be as feedback. More about feedback in future posts in this series.

Using normal rapid authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate, Articulate or Lectora, we can tell a story through pictures, voice-overs and/or speech bubbles. It is important to bring your learners into the heart of the action. Make them believe they are living the situation.

Your scenarios can built up over a number of slides while you introduce characters in the team. Give them a voice and make them ‘real’ with real problems to work through. Still images work perfectly for this. Your learners’ engagement will be with their minds as the visuals bring the situation to life. Short scenario-based questions can be like building pictures in your learners’ imaginations.

Stories have always worked well in the classroom so come on people – you can use them in e-learning too.

What does this do? It makes it real. It makes it believable. It makes it relevant and it will help people remember what they are supposed to do to do their job – not to regurgitate a piece of legislation.

Let’s rise up and rid the world of boring e-learning where we put the learner at the heart of the action. Stay tuned for future posts in this series on creating engaging e-learning where I will share some tips on learning through feedback.

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