- the recipe you use;
- and the skill of the chef
- the right instructional strategy/approach/design;
- and the skill of the design team
"Rapid elearning is not about cutting corners with design. Rapid elearning is about quickly translating great design into a working product. Rapid or not, bad design can never result in a good product."
I don't know how insightful that quote is, but it's something that expresses the reasons for my excitement about rapid elearning and my responses to it's criticism. Finally, good design is most likely to lead to a good final product. In today's post, I'm going to share a rapid elearning demo with you and share some tips to make your project a success. I've used Articulate Studio '09 to create this demo, so a lot of advice applies to that platform, though I think most tips will translate to other Powerpoint based elearning too.
This demo is about a fictional travel company that may want to train it's equally fictional travel counsellors. Of course, it's only a part of what could be a complete elearning module, but I hope it gives you a flavour for the advice I'm sharing on this blog post. So without further ado, here are my tips.
Be Task centered not Content centeredSo often we instructional designers blame our clients for the bad products we put out. I feel we need to be more responsible for our work. Our clients are not designers, so we shouldn't expect them to know what's the best way to design elearning. I don't deny that we often have difficult clients, but I guess that's where the art of consulting comes in. Take a look at the articles here and here for some inspiration on how you can make wonders happen even with the toughest clients.
Despite all the excellent thinking that we see online though, most elearning still seems to be very content focussed. More often than not, it's content, content, content followed by a quiz. OTOH I like the approach of plunging learners into a real world activity, providing 'information' on-demand and only if necessary. Contrary to what we want to believe, flash-based elearning isn't the greatest medium for reading. It definitely is a great multimedia platform for interactive content. And interaction isn't about clicking around and rollovers -- it's about making people do close-to-life work in a safe environment.
So for your next elearning module, consider how you can adopt an activity focussed approach to elearning. Cathy Moore's action mapping approach is a great way to kick off your design process. You will still need to add information only pieces - consider creative ways to architect this information.
Create Exploratory NavigationWe need to treat our learners as adults and do our best to give them the freedom to pick out the information they need. Most importantly, the real world doesn't give out information in a linear sequence. People seek out information based on the demands of the task on hand. Now, we can design challenges that make people pull the information from a state of pain. In our demo, there's a lot of information about lodging, flights, sightseeing, the customer's preferences etc, that we're making the learner pull. In traditional design, these would have been consecutive slides of information. In our exploratory mode, you possibly still have the same number of slides, but you design the learners experience to be more autonomous. Take a look at these excellent tutorials from Tom Kuhlmann that'll teach you how to create exploratory navigation:
- Thinking layers & not linear in PowerPoint elearning (1)
- Thinking layers & not linear in PowerPoint elearning (2)
Mimic the Real WorldHow do your learners perform the task you're teaching, in the real world? Do they use an application? Do they browse a number of websites? How can you try to simulate that as closely as possible in your elearning? Modern rapid elearning tools like Articulate allow you to bring the web into your course. You can use such capabilities to simulate research using a web based tool. Alternatively you can use tools like Camtasia/ Captivate to create software simulations. And if you want to give your learners a limited sandbox to play with, think of how you can use Powerpoint's hyperlinking features to mimic the real world. In my demo, I haven't done too much of this though you'll notice I've brought in screenshots from Travelocity, Expedia and Kayak to give learners a flavour for the real world.
Exploit your Slide MastersAs in programming, in elearning we should follow the DRY principle - "Dont Repeat Yourself!".
This is to say, that if you can create something once and reuse it, then don't create it again and again. Let me explain. When you design immersive scenarios or exploratory interfaces, you're quite likely to have slides that repeat the same visual elements. If you duplicate those visual elements across your screens, you're likely to have a really huge file that takes ages to load. Instead if you have a master slide that contains all these repeated elements, then your screens load faster and the entire elearning experience improves considerably. Most importantly, you can make your changes on the master slide to make changes to all the slides that use the same layout. As a result your production time goes down as well. Here's a video from Tom that shows how can use master slides to work efficiently towards your elearning.
Design Challenges, not AssessmentsElearning and particularly rapid elearning assessments just have a bad rep. After a pile of slides that do nothing but provide information, the last activity people want is a quiz that rates them on how much they remember. Instead we need to design challenges that helps people practice a skill. In our example, we are asking the learner to recommend a flight, a hotel and sightseeing to the customer. It is an assessment of sorts, but it's more an opportunity for task practice. Who do you think will be a better travel counsellor? Someone who goes through a fact check? Or someone who has practiced being a counsellor with five customers? Articulate Quizmaker is one of the best quiz engines in the market these days, and there's heaps you can do to exploit its power. Here's a boatload of community tutorials to help you become a pro with creating effective challenges in your elearning.
Be VisualLet's face it -- people like to explore things that look nice. If your elearning course looks ugly and amateurish, then it isn't going be very inviting for your learners. The good news however is that you don't need to be a trained graphic designer to produce stuff that looks good. Take a look at all the amazing visual design tips that Tom's put out on his blog -- Powerpoint is your best friend to do:
- layered graphics;
- vector graphics;
- and quick fix graphic effects
Well, those are the ideas that have worked for me when creating elearning. I have a huge problem with uninformed criticism for rapid-elearning tools, because I think rapid elearning will pave the way for timely elearning in the enterprise. Bad elearning is well, just bad elearning and it has nothing to do with whether the tool is rapid or not. If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy my other posts on similar topics. I'm also keen on knowing your thoughts about this post and what you think works when producing rapid elearning. Please let me know by commenting on this blogpost. Just so you can dissect my work, here are the source files:
- Articulate Package - Includes Quizmaker file and source PPT
- Engage Files - Includes all other interactions