Friday, 1 June 2012

Give me a scenario

Is it true that there are no coincidences? Who knows but when something happens repeatedly at some point you have to start paying attention to the signs. Don't worry, this is not the point where I start getting all deep and meaningful or start burning incense or even get incensed, but I have had something mentioned repeatedly in the last day or so that I'm a big fan of and I thought I'd share my thoughts with everyone who reads my blogs (yes you both mean a lot to me). I'm talking about scenarios and their use in elearning.




Okay, yes I sort of did something on this before when I blogged on writing good assessments (http://nigelkineo.blogspot.co.nz/2012/01/how-to-make-assessments-meaningful-and.html), but that was more about how to assess using a scenario, here I want to focus on using scenarios to train and how we achieve that and even which software we should use as it's a recurrent question and a hot topic in the elearning world at least for this week.
So writing scenario based training packages takes a few things to achieve, number one you do kind of need a system to write them on and the million dollar question is normally what's the best scenario based elearning authoring tool? This is very easy to answer, but not necessarily the answer you want to hear! Buy the tool that you and your team (okay, this is actually a big point too, but we'll park it and come back to it) think is easiest to use and produces the best content. You may be asking how you know that prior to the purchase and that brings me to my first and simplest piece of advice:

try before you buy now I can tell you to my heart's content what makes xxx the greatest thing since sliced bread but the truth is if you don't like it then it's just like that nasty cheap sliced bread that you're never going to eat and just use to grow mould for antibacterial purposes. If the product doesn't come with at least a little play time before paying your dough (sorry bread metaphor is in my head and you probably already know how I run with these) then something is wrong I think. Send them an email requesting a sandpit or something.. If they won't let you at least do that then I would say it's not the product for you no matter how great some supposed expert says it. Seriously this is just like 'critically acclaimed' movies that I watch sometimes and get the sinking feeling that it's 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back (and hey my blogs don't take that long to read). In fact I've seen some pretty bad Oscar winning movies in my time that have made me both laugh and cry at the points I was supposed to be doing the opposite.

check out the support yeah yeah so it's got videos and a help file, but for me I like a support network, somewhere I can post to and get answers not from the guy who made the bread machine but from someone who actually makes the loaves day in and day out. This is what we lovingly refer to as a community. It comes with an investment in support and a good customer base. TotoraLMS has a great community and it's the strength of open source, but some commercial products are great in this area, particularly the Articulate crowd. It's not the end of the story, but it makes a difference when you can connect with people who've walked the same road or baked the same types of courses you're trying to.




work out the true costs there's an old adage that you get what you pay for. I've adapted this slightly because I think it should say something like at best you get what you pay for, because some very expensive systems are worse than the cheap ones. But true cost for me is financial and time. If a system is cheaper but takes an age to learn, or worse still produces poor results that you'll need to redo and touch up again and again then it's a false economy. The other side of economy is to do with the number of users and licensing model. Once upon a time cloud (what we used to call Internet) software solutions or SaaS (software as a service) was an automatic bad choice for my money as the Internet simply wasn't fast enough to guarantee a good feel, that's becoming less and less of an issue (yes, even in New Zealand!). Cloud based software can often offer the advantages of many users that might be required for scenario based software. Take for example RolePlay; been getting lots of good feedback on this Kiwi cloud product made specifically for scenario based elearning. The great advantage comes when you have lots of trainers around the organisation, with this type of system you don't have to have multiple installs or worry about where the trainer is working from. Of course value wise Storyline offers a great buy, but my point on economy comes down to the number of users you actually have who need the software.




branches galore like all good trees and banks you'll want a system that can support branching scenarios effectively and easily. The first Storyline piece I put together I found really straightforward compared to how I used to put together Captivate products a couple of years ago. Your system should not only support multiple branches from quizzes and choices but also arrange them nice and easily for you to follow what you've done! To write a good scenario piece you'll need to plan out your storyboard and think about what and where each choice is going to take you. Try not to be too linear in your design so that your user thinks they have a number of ways to go rather than they must take the one preset path through the maze. I think it's very frustrating to keep having to go back before you go forward each time in
elearning.




don't force feed in scenarios this may be even more important than ever, but no one really likes having to do stuff and watch ten minute videos when the already know the answer. The best examples I've seen here use the pull idea rather than push, provide lots of options for users to get more information if they want to. For example, you could have books and video resources in the learning if they want to click on the book or video icons, otherwise let them go through quickly if they get it. Sure this means that some people will never see the groovy animation you spent ages making, but that's fine, the learning is about the learner not the developer!

let the user know how they're doing no, not just by telling them their score at the end, but by using characters and expressions when things are going right. A great customer service piece for example, will show how the customer is feeling with the responses that are given, not just with the words but with facial expressions and the voice if using audio too.

I guess that's all for now.. Again I find myself blogging on elearning late at night on my trusty iPad so forgive any typos that probably exist. The next blog will be off the computer probably as my partner is off on a training course in Singapore tomorrow so she's going to 'borrow' the pad for a few days; I will miss them both and I wonder how a worldwide IT company can afford to send its staff on overseas trips to deliver knowledge based learning.. Maybe there's a scenario they could explore too!

As usual all opinions and ideas are probably stolen from somewhere else and palmed off as my own. Feel free to hit me back with suggestions or comments, subscribe, retweet or plagiarise this content. I can be found hiding unsuccessfully at Nigel.young@kineo.co.nz @nigelkineo and even sometimes in person!

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Location:Auckland,New Zealand