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Generous e-Learning Design

by instructional strategist

Linda Rening

From the time we were children, most of us heard things like:

  • Don’t be selfish
  • Take turns
  • Share your toys
  • It is better to give than receive
  • Remember the Golden Rule

I did some reading and discovered that generosity is extolled as part of every major world religion. In fact, generosity seems to be a universal part of being human. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: Gentleness, self-sacrifice, and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion.

Who can argue with that?

And, what could all of this possibly have to do with e-learning?

Since Allen Interactions believes in teaching through challenges and feedback, here’s a challenge for you. See if you can tell who the most important person is in this e-learning selection:

Screen 1:

There are 8 steps in the sales process [yes, I made these up]:

  1. Discover
  2. Listen
  3. Ask questions
  4. Determine needs
  5. Confirm
  6. Describe
  7. Overcome objections
  8. Close the sale

Screen 2:

Quiz: Multiple choice questions:

  1. What’s step 3 in the sales process?
  2. What comes after “Describe” in the sales process?

OK, so who’s the most important person in that e-learning selection? You’re right! The most important person is the one who came up with the sales process. Clearly, he or she is a valued Subject Matter Expert (SME), who is probably a favorite with the training department because he or she will actually review something and provide timely feedback.

But, should an e-learning course really be about the SME? Should an e-learning course be about the training department?

It was Ethan Edwards who said it first, “We have to be generous enough to make our e-learning experiences about the learners.”

GenerousWe have to get out of the way, and put the learners first. We have to share our toys and remember the Golden Rule.

Have you ever taken one of your own e-learning courses? Have you ever taken a course similar to one that you might develop? How was it?

I had that experience before coming to Allen Interactions, so I can tell you how it was: it was deadly boring. In my own defense, I was following the directions of a training department who, in collusion with their SMEs, required a five-second delay before the Next button became active on any page, and who locked down the menu so that no matter how experienced a learner might be, he or she had to go lock-step through the course. Yuck.

Do you know how frustrating a five-second wait is? Do you know how annoying it is not to be able to peek at upcoming modules to see what’s coming?

Back to our sales process example: what would have happened if the fictional sales process training had been structured to be unselfish, to be more generous? Again, you’re right! It would have been about the learner. See what you think of this e-learning selection:

Interaction 1:

You are a carpet salesperson and you’re having a conversation with a potential customer who says, “I really need new carpet for my hallway.”

What do you say in return?

As the learner, you would see a few choices, would click all that apply, and then see the results of the selection through a picture of the potential customer showing a reaction that fit the selection you made. The customer might look dismayed, annoyed, bored, happy, etc. And then, you would have a chance to make different selections to get the conversation back on track if you had made the wrong selections.

Do learners need to know the steps in the sales process? No, not really. What learners need to know is how to sell something.

The Pronoun is the Key

If we were writing about the sales process, like in the first example, the pronoun to be used to talk about the sales process is “it.” Writing about the sales process is writing in the third person.

Look at the second example. The pronoun there is “you.” When we’re writing learner-centered design, we’re writing in the second person. There are only two people in the equation: the writer and the learner. 

Try writing e-learning as if you were talking to the learner. And, of course, avoid being pedantic, condescending, or arrogant. Write as if you were talking to someone you care about. Write as if you want to help that person learn and grow.

In addition to writing in the second person, there are temptations you will have to resist. What if you love the idea of video in e-learning, even if it doesn’t enhance learning? Or, perhaps you discovered a really cool interaction you can make with ZebraZapps, and you vow to use it in your next course whether it fits or not. Or, maybe your SMEs insist that you present all (and I mean ALL) of their content. Can you resist and stand firm?

Learner-centered design is generous. It puts the needs of learners first, and our own wishes second. To take liberties with the Golden Rule: learner-centered design means we create e-learning that we would actually want to take.

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