Wednesday, June 20, 1:00 - 2:00 pm, Central
Presented by: Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist
About This Webinar:
People often tout interactivity as the great benefit offered by e-learning, yet most interactivity does nothing to either engage or instruct. In fact, most often it only places a barrier between the learner and the content by making the learner experience tedious, unnecessarily cumbersome, and adversarial. Interactivity must be more than testing and simplistic actions.
Attendees will learn the concept of instructional interactivity, and see how it can transform the learning experience for learners working independently through an e-learning program. You’ll get specific real-world examples that give meaning to the four essential components of instructional interactivity: Context, Challenge, Activity, and Feedback.
Learn how good e-learning is far less a function of the specific tools used, than it is of the creative design of these four elements. This webinar will give you a concrete structure on which you can design e-learning that makes a difference, no matter the depth of content, complexity, or simplicity of the authoring tools.
In this webinar, you will learn:
• the value of true instructional interactivity for creating engaging, effective e-learning
• to design engaging contexts, motivating challenges, appropriate activities, and instructional feedback into interactive design
• the critical elements of any authoring tool to use to create instructional interactivity
• to create learner-centered designs to maximize motivation and meaning in e-learning
by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist
Testing is inexplicably bound to our experiences with teaching and learning. And standardized test formats have become the model for most e-learning interactions. Four-option multiple choice questions (press a, b, c, or d) and True/False statements (press t or f) are the basic building blocks all the authoring tools provide the e-learning author. Even when formats are expanded to provide more variety, it is surprising how limited the questions remain. The templates for hot-spot interactions where the learner can click on an image instead of selecting a lettered response often require four images that must be identically sized and positioned in preset locations—hardly different than a standard multiple choice.
But it’s a real shame that these sorts of questions have become the standard for e-learning interactivity. We need to remember that these formats didn’t arise because anyone thought they were good teaching methods; instead, it was because they were easier to grade on a large scale than other methods of questioning.
And even when we grade a learner as passing these questions, what does it tell us? There are any number of reasons unrelated to the purpose of the question that might account for the student’s response (random guessing, educated guessing, misreading a question, responding to irrelevant aspects of the question [i.e., “the longest choice is always correct”], or simple user error [i.e., “My finger slipped”].
And besides, we know it takes rich experiences to actually facilitate learning. I am a big fan of the practical significance of what M. David Merrill introduced as the First Principles of Instruction. In a nutshell, these principles state that instruction must be problem-centered, prior knowledge must be activated, expected outcomes must be demonstrated, learners must be given an opportunity to apply the knowledge, and then the new knowledge/skills should be integrated into everyday life. Sadly, standard interactions that rely on simple recall and superficial question-answering behaviors (“press a”) do little to facilitate these necessary steps.
So what do we need instead? We need interactions that present challenges that relate to real world performance. We need activities where performance and repetition will encourage transfer to work environments. We need rich simulated contextual environments where learners work toward solving meaningful problems. We need immersive situations in which learners attend to intrinsic feedback to shape desired competencies.
There are many impediments to achieving this kind of learning, but most disappointingly, a critical failure is that the authoring tools available to designers and developers of e-learning are largely unsuited for facilitating learning. Most are optimized to make it really easy to create the sort of e-learning that no one will benefit from.
It is this vein of thinking that is motivating my colleagues here at Allen Interactions in developing ZebraZapps. As this authoring and publishing platform continues to develop, it becomes more and more obvious how transforming this tool has the potential to be. The significance of the old saying that “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” is becoming obvious. With most traditional authoring tools, everything looks like an opportunity to give a PowerPoint-like presentation and then ask simplistic test questions. With ZebraZapps, the world looks like a place that demands meaningful, interactive environments with learners meaningfully engaged in manipulating objects, experimenting, and exploring, because that’s what it does most easily.
The video below shows an accelerated process of creating an interesting simulation about vision and eye function in ZebraZapps. You can see that there’s nothing hidden or especially complicated; the designer/developer creates interactivity just by connecting properties with wires and adjusting values. Of course logic and good design are still needed, but there aren’t technical impediments. And it’s fast!
If you’ve not looked at ZebraZapps, or if you just haven’t looked at it in awhile, I encourage you to go to www.zebrazapps.com and check it out. You can still create a login that provides you free personal use of the system, and there are a number of great new enhancements being rolled out in conjunction with the ASTD ICE event in Denver in a couple weeks that extend the authoring and also make it a viable enterprise solution.
And whether interested in ZebraZapps or not, if you are attending ASTD ICE, please be sure to stop by the Allen Interactions booth 215 in the Expo Hall to say “Hello.” Register today for a free Expo Only registration or register for $100 off a Full Conference registration.
by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I hope you Irish among my readers (and I guess everyone is a little Irish today) will find fun and convivial companionship in your celebrations. Even though traces of Irish blood flow through me, I have to admit to failure in devising a connection between St. Patrick’s Day and e-learning. I pondered this all day yesterday and all night hoping for inspiration and nothing came. (Drive the Snakes Out of Your e-Learning? Give Your e-Learning a Touch of the Blarney? Find the Pot-o-Gold at the End of Your e-Learning?....I think not…) At least there is an entertaining St. Patrick’s Day e-card linked at the end of this post built entirely in Zebra and ready for your enjoyment.
My mind (and my back and arms, actually) is still full of my project this weekend, which was to plant a small orchard. With the help of my 87-year-old father, we dug holes for and planted nine apple trees, a pear, an apricot, and two plum trees. They are all classic heirloom varieties from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but have put off because it was easier to avoid. And there are many reasons not to bother—apples are readily available nearly anywhere you want to buy them. An orchard requires a commitment. It calls for expenditures today that won’t be repaid for some time into the future.
On the other hand, of course provided that the trees grow and thrive, an orchard provides great benefits. I’m looking forward to harvesting apples that aren’t available to me anywhere else. I’ll have greater control over the quality and nature of my harvest. I will be less subject to the decisions of others as to what is available to me. I have increased the value of this property, both physically and emotionally, and that value is likely to only increase over the next 30-40 years at least.
Another way to think about this is simply a question whether access to apples is an expense or as an asset. When paying expenses, one is always driven to pay as little as possible. This also keeps you in the most perilous state possible in the long run. With assets, one plans for long-term benefit, investing time and resources because the object of importance is of continuing importance and value. That’s right…it speaks clearly to what we value.
This is the same question we face in planning training, and while it applies to all training, it is especially relevant to e-learning, because the initial development costs can be significant. Viewing employees as an expense, training just becomes one more place to try to reduce costs. Reducing budgets, time, and resources that we are willing to pay for training development only gives us less influence in creating an organization that truly embodies our unique goals and values. This is what I find off-putting about the single-minded push to ever more rapid e-learning. The only factor that seems to matter is how little time and effort one can get by with…and ultimately, the greatest success, if that is the goal, is to not do e-learning at all!
Viewing your workforce as an asset changes the way you approach training. Training becomes an investment that will yield both short-term and long-term results. But learning is an activity that takes a long time, and demanding that it deliver all anticipated outcomes immediately is unrealistic. A specific training course is only the first step in the overall training process that requires mentoring and on-the-job learning that will occur over months or even years. And because a “training as expense” mentality requires immediate accounting, irrelevant short-term assessments take the place of any meaningful measure of success. (In a few weeks I should see if the trees leaf out and I can report that as success….never mind that real success will only be known several years from now if and when those trees actually bear any fruit.)
Again, this is a topic that has more to do with the whole vision and value that your organization has for training than specifically to the design of instruction, but I find in talking with new training professionals thrown into e-learning, that the failure of an organization to grasp what an investment in e-learning looks like—in terms of tools, design and development skills, access to media resources, and adequate time—makes accomplishing anything of lasting value nearly impossible.
Without that vision, we’re unlikely to provide training that makes much impact. It’s as if we’re left with buying nothing but waxed and shiny Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples. They look decent, are perfectly uniform, last forever, but provide very little taste, and give only a hint of what a good apple ought to be.
by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist
Today we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Like so many federal holidays, I fear that the most notable aspect of the holiday is that children have a day off from school and most government, financial, and education workers have a free day. I hope that we all do take a few moments to think about the unique contributions that Dr. King made to advance equality among all of us.
I’m not going to pretend to craft a metaphor about e-learning and civil rights. In addition to feeling ridiculous, I don’t want to diminish the significance of Dr. King’s contributions to end discrimination. It’s all too easy to overlook events that are quickly becoming part of “history” instead of part of the fabric of current events and presume that we are no longer struggling with challenges of how to live together as a diverse culture, simply because it is not the daily topic of news.
But in thinking about Dr. King, I came across this quote from one of his early sermons that speaks about our responsibility to each other:
All I'm saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
This speaks to everyone involved in human activity, but it should ring a particular chord of significance with those of us involved in training. As we sit manipulating LMS tags, signing off on learning objectives, manipulating our templates, or recording narration, it is easy to forget that all this activity actually has to ultimately connect to a real life person in search of personal and professional growth. The details of what we’ve done matter nothing unless our training programs reach learners in a way that transforms them uniquely.
So today, I just want to call your attention to the possibilities in your environment to make a difference. We’re not doing anything particularly useful just by putting more content on the internet or by creating another pretty animation or even by reporting the sheer number of users that have completed a course. While these are the concrete things we can measure, the value of designing e-learning or any training is the actual impact it can have on our fellow creatures. Maybe these thoughts on this holiday can create a renewed sense of perspective on the activities we engage in as designers and the responsibility we have and the potential within our grasp to create real change in our learners. Until we do that, we’ll never be what we ought to be.
by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist
I received this email this week from a reader:
Dear Ethan: I am 38 years old. Some of my co-workers and my manager say there is no such thing as engaging e-learning. My cubicle mate says ‘If you see it in the Allen Interactions Thought Leadership Blog it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there engaging e-learning?
115 West Ninety-fifth Street
Virginia, your little co-workers are wrong. They have been affected by the limitations of simplistic design processes, distractions afforded by misapplied interactive media, failures to incorporate appropriate visual elements to bring meaning to content, over-reliance on “telling” in place of learning experiences, and misplaced faith in technology to teach with no particular specialized design effort. They think that nothing can be that is not achievable by their little budgets and immediate timelines. All budgets, Virginia, whether they be for a global corporate training effort or a mere one-person development team, are little. The grand challenge of creating performance change in our learners given the boundless complexity of teaching can be overwhelming given these limitations.
Yes, Virginia, there is engaging e-learning. It exists as certainly as creativity and curiosity and vision exist, and you know that they abound in other areas of training and professional development. Alas! How dreary are e-learning programs that fail to understand learners’ needs and motivations. There would be no context, no no meaningful challenge or risk, no meaningful actions, no corrective intrinsic feedback to make meaningful and memorable the valuable time spent in training. e-Learning would be a dreary experience in which no one takes enjoyment. The drive for insight and creativity that drives all growth and progress would be extinguished.
Not believe in the possibility of engaging e-learning! You might as well not believe in the impact of Google. You might get your organization to implement undifferentiated templates of text-heavy PowerPoint slides interrupted by meaningless trivia questions tracked immediately in your LMS, but when your learners abandon e-learning out of boredom, what would that prove? Did you ever experience co-workers using the Web to solve mysteries, achieve results earlier thought out of reach, communicate and collaborate with co-workers near and far, explore newly-available reference materials to solve problems facing your business? These things are real and valuable insights into how learners can be motivated. Just because they are missing from the tedious traditional e-learning with which most people are familiar does not mean that they could not have just as significant impact in formal training as they do in casual, self-directed professional development. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are yet unseen in the world of e-learning.
You can tear apart a Flash program and see how the various pieces are orchestrated in the timeline or download yet another PowerPoint template, but there is also a craft of instructional design that combines art and science that can not be collapsed into a simple, cookbook-like sequence of steps to follow. Technical expertise and access to technology are necessary, but only an open-mind, experimental thinking, prototyping of new ideas, collaborative development across team members, early testing with potential users, and constant awareness of what motivates your learners can push aside that shade of boring e-learning and really engage learners in compelling learning experiences. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all the world of training there is nothing else real and abiding.
No engaging e-learning! Thank heavens! It’s possible and within your grasp and it can have real, long-lasting impact. A year from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten years from now, your efforts might continue to make glad the hearts of your learners.
View the popular Christmas editorial "Is There a Santa Claus?"
by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist
I was just reading an insightful white paper by Allison Rossett and Antonia Chan, Engaging in the new e-Learning. The authors lay out a compelling case for the fully-engaged, participatory learning that we anticipate becoming common in the e-learning 2.0 world--learning where the participant is immersed in engaging environments, where support and guidance is integrated into performance settings, where the learner is an active creator of eLearning resources, and where both teacher and student, mentor and apprentice, are integrated through direct contact and through technology into a vibrant learning community.
The authors go on to list 12 design strategies that will create successes in these online experiences. In a nutshell, e-learning 2.0 must convey and embody perceived usefulness, convincing value, opportunities for success, real contexts, modeling, thoughtful activity, emotional and successful communication, tracked progress, blending with other approaches, collaboration, attention-grabbing media, and self-evaluation. The discussion is great and I encourage you to explore the full article.
I think the potential for transforming e-learning through Web 2.0 technology is tremendous. I also think a lot of designers of e-learning are still going to be operating in pre-e-learning 2.0 environments for some time yet, and these principles are equally important to those designers. Just because you’re not developing your next course in Second Life doesn’t let you off the hook. These strategies are essential for creating learning, no matter what level of technology we are currently operating at.
It seems to me that e-learning has been plagued by a tradition of accepting sub-par training while waiting for the next technology to arrive that will save the day. Unless we as designers take these design ideas to heart now and change the basic way we think about technology-based training, we will very likely miss, once again, the potential that is waiting out there for us.
by Steve Lee, strategic relationship manager
These days more and more "games" seem to be popping up in e-Learning. The problem is these games have no "Context". No context means the interface, rules, flow, choices, thought processes of the games are not realistic or relevant to the actual job performance of the learner. Many of these games simply take "facts" and place the into a game similar to Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, etc. to simply make taking a test more fun.
While increasing the motivation of the user to learn is paramount, making Q&A fun is not nearly as efffective as using "Gaming Theory" to create a simulation, scenario, adventure, or some other type of realistic challenge, with relevant scoring, feedback, and consequences.
Gaming Theory depends on creating risk to the learner. Risk that is dependent on providing the most successful (and quickest) path through the experience based on actually learning. Making mistakes or guessing should cause not only the same consequences the learner should experience on the job, but should also extend the amount of time required to complete the learning via additional feedback and repetitive success to overcome the intial failures.
To simplify, the learning designer must ask the question "what mistake would the learner make if this fact, concept, or procedure is not known?" Then the game must ensure that mistake is not only available, and a likely choice, but must seem to be the appropriate choice to the uninformed and provide realistic and relevant consequences of making the choice.