Putting the learning back in e-learning

Creating engaging e-learning Part 2

Last week I compared retail design to e-learning design. In this article I am going to explore more about what we need to consider when creating e-learning so it’s a great learning experience.

What do most people complain about when faced with the prospect of ‘doing a bit of e-learning’?
Boring – mind numbing and tedious. Slide after slide of text – why do we do that? Why do we reproduce pages of text in an authoring tool when that same information has already been produced and is sat in a Word document or .pdf somewhere on the intranet? Are these walls of text there just to provide an excuse to have a multiple choice quiz at the end to ‘test’ their knowledge? Why do we give ourselves that extra work?

If we decide that it IS important for them to read the company policy then why not provide a link to it or make sure they know where to get to it and save the duplication? Better still, if it’s ‘e-information’ you want to create – be up-front about it and, please, put a little more thought into how engaging it looks for readability on screen.

A lot can be learned from all those remarkable SlideShare presentations and YouTube snippets. But if we are talking e-Learning – now that’s a whole different ball game. Learning is about experiencing, thinking, doing and making connections.

Before we even start thinking about e-learning, perhaps we should first remind ourselves what good learning really is. Let’s think about classroom learning – and I mention classroom learning because that’s what most learners cite as a preference instead of ‘doing some e-learning’.

Why is It they prefer classroom?  Is it because a good classroom experience no longer consists of ‘death by PowerPoint’? Good classroom design and delivery involves the learner from the beginning. It includes critical thinking, scenario activities that are realistic and work related with a good balance of questioning and information.

All these are delivered skilfully by the facilitator drawing out learners’ opinions, thoughts and ideas. It involves opportunities for learners to apply their knowledge with practice and checking activities on work based projects or case studies. It allows them to apply critical thinking – not just answering multiple choice questions. Great classroom learning provides learners with the opportunities to collaborate discuss and share experiences as well as providing each other with support.

My question is why does this have to stop when we are designing e-learning? Why is it that all we know as learning specialists is forgotten or ignored when we are tasked with creating e-learning? It seems the learning has been taken out of e-learning (if it was ever there in the first place). Instead, we have been focussing too much on the ‘e’.

As learning designers, we can easily come up with superb, engaging activities that make the learners think critically such as scenarios, role plays, analysing data, and exercises. We know how to ask the right sort of guided questions to help our learners think more carefully about their answers. We know it is important to break down the activities in the classroom to bite sized chunks so they refocus and are able to work with each other in teams. The good news is we CAN make this happen in e-learning. We just need to be a little more creative in our thinking.

What would happen if we sat our learners down in a room and made them sit through dozens of screens of bullet points spewing out copious amounts of information? Or worse: being read to by the tutor?

Although that still happens (from what I still hear anyway) it is improving greatly. Ok, so what if we give the learners the power to stop us and rewind as many time as they need? Will that help them? I think not! How soon would they fall asleep? Pretty likely if you ask me! If we are lucky, they may stay to the end only to be faced with a few pages of multiple choice questions. That hardly tests their application of the theory to anything meaningful.

Any good learning professional wouldn’t dream of doing this. Why, then, do we insist on this torture when producing a piece of e-learning. So what do we do?

Most of us know how frustrating this experience can be so we try and improve it. We know that interaction is the key to good e-learning but our idea of interaction is clicking a button to move a screen forward.
We might go a little further and acknowledge that learners don’t want to see copious amounts of text on a screen all at once. So we hide it behind roll-overs. Now the interaction is a click combined with a slight movement of the mouse to reveal……. wait for it …….. more information.

Whilst this is acceptable in small doses it is still only information. True – it does make it more visually interesting but there is no real critical thought. Ok, ok, some people can learn like that but where is the application?

We think that by ‘tarting’ up the slides so information is hidden behind cleverly thought up graphics or charts, this makes it ‘engaging’….. think again. It is a little like handing out envelopes in class for learners to open one by one just to discover a few more facts. Admittedly, it’s a little more fun than death by PowerPoint – but only just.

There is, however, light at then end of this e-learning tunnel. If we would normally ask guided questions in a classroom to gain an opinion we can do exactly the same in an e-learning module. The difference being that instead of waiting for someone to answer, we may have to give some realistic options for the learners to choose. In part three I’ll be looking at ideas for creating exciting and engaging e-learning and continuing on I’ll explore ideas on how we can think more creatively when introducing activities in e-learning, how we can help get the most out of our learners and encourage motivation.

One thought on “Putting the learning back in e-learning

  1. Pingback: What hope is there for e-learning? « Purple Learning

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