After 34 years in this business, you might say I’ve learned a thing or two about what constitutes good eLearning, even truly effective eLearning. What does it mean for eLearning to be effective?
It means that it prepares learners to handle problems and conflicts in the real world. It means helping people make the proper real-world decisions in situations that are sometimes stressful. It doesn’t bore those who already know the subject matter well, but it helps novices practice as much as they need to become more expert. It certainly is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is a joy for learners!
A joy for learners? Joe, you must be kidding. I’ve never once seen an eLearning course that’s a joy to use. True, perhaps we can’t expect a joyful experience, but we can hope for eLearning that engages us, not just with pretty pictures and sounds, but with challenges, with respectful prodding, and consequences for actions that we take.
I notice something interesting about my boys when they play video games. In many games, there are occasional video sequences that last four or five minutes, with beautiful imagery, music, and action. My boys don’t have much patience for those. Why? Because they aren’t actually playing the game during those sections. They are simply watching. Beautiful scenes don’t engage them for very long.
So it is with most eLearning. We are told to watch, to read, to look at images, or maybe some videos. We are told to hit the “Next” button. We are given a quiz at the end to prove we learned something in the last few minutes (never mind that we’ll forget it soon afterward). We all hate that kind of learning, yet we all have created that kind of learning. You know what? It … just ... doesn’t … work!
What works? Scenarios work. I don’t mean multimillion dollar Avatar-types of environments. In fact, simulated scenarios can be simple text, just like those Choose Your Own Adventure books or the old text-only Dungeons and Dragons games in the early days of microcomputers. How did those work? They sparked the imagination, they painted a rich tapestry in the mind, and most importantly, they allowed the user to make decisions that would change the outcome. Of course, images, audio, and video help a lot, animations may as well, but they are not necessarily always essential. What is essential is a challenge that leads to consequences, both good and bad.
Soft skills, such as customer relations, lend themselves to scenarios, but so can software training. After all, why are we learning the software? To solve problems. What if we use the software incorrectly? We get bad consequences. Ask, “Why learn the software,” before you ask how to use it.
Many authoring tools today do not lend themselves well to creating scenario-based learning. They push you toward a linear presentation. The truth is, the most important element you need to create scenarios is the ability to navigate freely to anywhere from anywhere. You can do that in almost any tool, including PowerPoint, but some tools lend you the power to create these navigable case-based scenarios much more easily than others.