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Good e-Learning Design Begins with Asking "Why Not?"

by , vice president - training and marketing | @rhillsites

Richard Sites

Think back to the last time you were in a meeting which planned to create, define, or discuss a new approach, design or strategy. A conference table surrounded by probably too many people with a wide range of enthusiasm for this event.

There is always that moment when someone asks, “So what are some ideas?” Everyone looks around at each other with the slightly overwhelmed, partially panicked look of someone who has just been asked to explain the meaning of life to a group of fourth graders. Where do you even begin?

The reason that this question is so tough to answer, even worse yet agree on, is that it is a question which seeks an inclusive answer. That is, this question provides the responder with little direction or insight into what a targeted response might be, so all responses are acceptable.

Ask "Why Not"

This same phenomenon occurs in project kick-off meetings for learning projects. Often these meetings center around content, like a procedure manual or operations guide. The team begins with this content in mind and asks, “So what should we do?” All too often the answer is, “Take this and add more.” And why not? The implicit challenge underlying many instructional design projects is how well was the content covered.

But there is another way―a way that focuses on performance—on the task that the learner will actually accomplish on the job. To get to this type of instructional experience, we cannot simply ask “What should we do?” We have to ask, “Why should we NOT do this?” Now that’s a targeted question.

Why should we NOT do this? This question is a powerful method of designing engaging learning for two basic reasons:

  1. It is always more challenging to critically evaluate an event, a strategy, or a treatment than it is to simply confirm you like it or not. Why Not gets people discussing the reasons they like or don’t like the instructional treatment being reviewed.
  2. The “this” in the question, “Why should we NOT do this?” means we create something for the team to review and discuss. There should be tangible events that the design team can see, touch, and react to. Giving the team the “this” further guides the discussion towards a targeted outcome. It is very difficult to suggest adding content to an instructional event when you are asked “Why NOT do this?”

SAM, as you may be aware, is an iterative design and development process for creating engaging learning events that supports asking “Why not?” For more on asking the right questions during the Savvy Start and throughout the process, get yourself a copy of Leaving ADDIE for SAM or read these blog posts listed below.

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