What hope is there for e-learning?

Creating engaging e-learning: Part 4

What hope indeed!

We need to rise up and join the revolution – the e-learning revolution. I am always keen to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of technology. I love how clever programmers can be when creating amazing ‘special effects’ on screen. And yes – the visual design is important but not at the expense of the learning.

When is information just information and why do we think by adding a multiple choice quiz at the end makes it learning? All this does is test immediate recall of the facts. What it doesn’t do is test how this information or knowledge can be transferred to performance. I explored this in my second of this series in creating engaging e-learning where we talked about putting the learning back in e-learning.

Today I received a usual e-mail alert from an award winning e-learning software provider after making an enquiry some time ago. I don’t often have time to look at these alerts but, tonight I decided to take a look at their news. It included examples of e-learning they produce for customers. I must say, I was very impressed with the clever graphics, special effects and novel ways of taking you through screens etc. As I worked through the examples of their portfolio, a question came to mind….

Does flashy programming, great use of graphics and clever special effects equal engaging e-learning? My answer? – No! I totally support that care has to be taken when designing the visuals (more of that in later posts) but what really engages the learner is how they use their brains, not their fingers on the mouse.

If only the e-learning companies asked their learners what they hate about e-learning they will find out they can’t stand clever ways of dressing up information where they just click or roll over to reveal more information. What learners are crying out for is to be able to think for themselves, to solve problems – realistic, work-based, relevant problems..

There is an example of a timeline where the ‘interaction’ is merely moving the mouse back and forth through the timeline ribbon and rolling over images for more information about key events. Again, I loved the graphics, the colours and the visual design but in my opinion, this is just e-information. I have already differentiated between e-information and e-learning: Now e-information certainly has its place but there’s no cognitive application involved. It’s just pure exposition.

As a result of looking at these examples I thought I would re-think some of them to give you some ideas of how to make your own designs more engaging by incorporating the right sort of interaction.

There’s one example where I love the visuals and clever programming– they’re superb. The user clicks to turn the pages of a book where they read a case study (the producer refers to it as a scenario). This is a super, visually engaging way of displaying information. But that’s all it is – oh and guess what? It is followed by a really long multiple choice quiz where learners are ‘tested’ on the content. A lovely idea initially, but why not use the case study to act as a problem solving activity where the learners have to make the decisions as they go along on behalf of the people in the scenario? The story could be told in instalments and it is unlikely we will ‘lose’ our learners along the way.

Let’s think about another example:

Here the learner is shown a beautiful image of a coral reef. Again the visuals are superbly set with clear thought to relevance and placement. To the right of the photo but set within an aquatic template is a whole bunch of text. What is the ‘interaction’ planned for the learner? Well, the learner has to grab the [thin non-standard?] scroll bar to read more text because there is too much to go on the screen. What does this text give us? A heap of facts telling us about the threats faced by coral reefs from man and the environment! And, yes – you’ve guessed it – another obligatory multiple choice quiz. Does this put the learner at the heart of the coral reef? Does it help the learner understand the consequences of their actions? Not really – just regurgitating facts again.
Unfortunately, for those starting out on the e-learning design journey they take these examples as best practice and replicate them.  ‘What would I do differently? No…. I’m not going to tell you…. What would you do differently???? I would love to hear some of your own ideas of creating real interactive learning activities. C’mon let’s start that e-learning revolution

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