Saturday, February 06, 2010

How to effectively architect information for your elearning course

As Instructional Designers, its always a challenge to balance meaningful instruction with information. Cathy Moore's action mapping framework is a great way to create lively elearning that allows you to include just the right amount of information in your elearning course. That said, our SMEs and clients will often say to us things like, "But we need to include _______ in the course as well." or "All that's fine, but they need to KNOW ______ as well."

Its a consulting challenge to make the trade-off between meaningful instruction and information overload in such cases. That being said, there are a few simple strategies that you can use to ensure that your course has the right impact and you can include your client's request for additional information too! Here they are.

Provide information through scenarios

As you may have noticed in my last post, I have a strong preference towards scenario based elearning. Scenarios allow us as designers to present our audience with a real life challenge. Of course, real life challenges are tough to solve without background knowledge and sound instructional thinking can allow us to weave in this important information, without being too top heavy about it. When your audience accesses knowledge from a state of pain, they're more likely to appreciate its value and remember it at their day job. What this makes us do, is think hard about the information that is really of consequence for the performances we target.

Try organising optional information in tabs

Regardless of how hard we try however, there's some information that just is so sacrosanct that it HAS TO BE part of the course. But then, what if this 'valuable' information just doesn't add value to the performance we seek and expect our audience to demonstrate during the course? I've found a middle path, especially when using Articulate Studio '09. You see, Articulate Studio allows you to customise your player to include some of this information in tabs. When we tuck away some of this really 'nice to have' yet apparently 'important' information in tabs, we have one more way to satisfy our clients and at the same time ensure that the course stays lively, engaging and useful. Take a look at this really elementary demo that I put together for this very technique.

Provide your audience with Job Aids

I've always believed that people learn over time and that learning is a process not an event. So its impractical to include roll all of the support an individual needs, into a single course. In recent months I've been surprised to see so many wonderful courses that don't link to any follow up information such as a job aid or performance support. And to think that after all that effort in putting together a great course, it should be really easy for you to put together a one-page summary of how people can perform specific tasks! So my suggestion is to include a few things for people to use as a follow up for your course:
  • a definite action that you'd like them to perform once they're done with the program;
  • a set of people that can help them answer questions if they're stuck;
  • a set of resources and job aids that can help your audience long after they've forgotten your hard-work on the course

Enable supervisors with Job Instruction

One of our problems as elearning instructional designers is that we often forget about other, lightweight methods of creating learning. I believe that people learn a lot from mentoring and apprenticeship. And who better to provide this support than the supervisors themselves? Fortunately we don't have to go down the heavyweight colocated training approach to achieve maximum benefits. In recent days I've become a big fan of the training within industry (TWI) approach of the Lean world. While the TWI set of practices dates back to second world war, the approaches make more sense today than ever. One of the practices from TWI is job instruction. The idea was to help supervisors get inexperienced workers 'up to speed' faster. So they taught supervisors to break down jobs into closely defined steps, show the procedures while explaining the key points and the reasons for the key points, then watch the student attempt under close coaching, and finally to gradually wean the student from the coaching. The course emphasized the credo, "If the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught".

Job Instruction sheets considerably simplify this activity for the supervisor and its great investment to provide them with such material to support their teams. You'll find some excellent examples of job instruction sheets at this location. Take a look, download the ones you like and start putting together these single sheet plans for supervisors to support your course. I believe the impact could be tremendous. 
One of the things that I'm always curious about is how we can do more with less. What simple, yet high impact methods are you discovering to support learning for your clients or company? Yes, my intention is to steal your ideas and use them at work, but more importantly I'm keen to learn about what's happening across the world in terms of inexpensive innovation in the field of learning. So as always, place your thoughts in the comments section of this blogpost and also let me know what you thought of this article. I'm always keen to hear your thoughts.


Cheryl McNeil said...

Hi! You make very interesting points. Nice post.

It is important, after a course is completed that the student is able to apply the knowledge they have learned to their job. I agree, job aids are a good way to help students achieve more with their new-learned training.

Mobile said...

Good Post! Very informative, glad that you are going to continue writing things like this!


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