Monthly Archives: August 2010

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.

Has mobile technology affecting how we e-mail?

After recently reading an interesting article on Mashable about whether e-mailing habits have changed with the introduction mobile technology I thought I’d share my experiences since the purchase of my first smart phone (iPhone) in March this year. I certainly check more regularly. What’s really sad is when I check personal e-mail, I usually check work. Do I need more of a work life balance? I guess so.

As for writing more e-mails – I usually wait until I’m back on my laptop unless an urgent response is needed. This is purely because I still can’t get on with these fiddley keyboards but am getting better. At the moment I’m writing this from my WordPress app on my iPhone. It’s slow going for a touch typist and I make more typos but I’m sure I’ll get better at it.

The big difference this new gadget has made is that I am constantly online. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I have a feeling it is feeding my addiction. I have no need to worry that I am alienating myself from my husband as I read through my RSS feeds, checking e-mail, Tweeting or Facebooking – he’s doing exactly the same on the other sofa on his iPhone. Now that IS sad!

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.