Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Smoke and Mirrors in e-Learning

What if you've got a bad piece of original classroom training that you want to convert into a great piece of e-learning?  Do you rewrite it, or get it properly designed with proper learning design or do you just hand it over to an e-learning company (along with a sizeable cheque) and get it super-charged?  Unfortunately, the latter is often true and companies hand over poor material and limited guidance to e-learning or even graphic design type companies to take and make great looking pieces of 'learning'.  This is the smoke and mirrors approach - stuff that ends up looking the part but has no heart and soul - or in e-learning terms no real learning in it.  I've said many times that e-learning is 90% learning, well, that's what good e-learning is at any point.  If you've created a great looking piece of learning that is actually just a great demo of how to make things look good, your e-learning is actually not that great.

Just to be clear here what I'm not saying is that good e-learning has to look bad.  Good e-learning will always be visually appealing and I definitely want to see plenty of interaction (lots of doing - like any good learning piece) and graphical niceties, but there's a point when it gets too much.  Compare it to the early days of Powerpoint.  There were always the presenters that liked to show off how clever they could get with it - sweeping in animations and great sound effects - all of which often detracted from the presentation that they were trying to give.  The exact same is true of e-learning with swishing and moving that is actually detracting rather than adding to what you're trying to teach.  You also need to remember that good e-learning is not a presentation… it's an interactive learning experience that needs to involve the learner not just show them stuff.

Lots of e-learning now seems to come with things drifting by in the background… but I don't really get it or what it adds.  Sure there are times you want to immerse your learners in a scenario that is realistic, but too often the background is moving essentially for no reason other than you can make it do that and tome that's the same as that 'whoosh' sound in Powerpoint!  I think there' s plenty of nice animations that can add to an e-learning piece like pulling a lever sometimes rather than just clicking next if it's relevant; for example in an industry or task that requires you to pull levers.

In fact here comes the punchline from the title.  A lot of this distraction is really just smoke and mirrors to disguise 'click next to continue' e-learning that still makes up the vast majority of e-learning in the corporate space.  I understand that an increased usage in rapid tools often means that there's a lot of slide based learning, but with modern tools like Storyline that doesn't have to be the case and if I had to give one simple trick to avoid this it would be to plan multiple paths through your learning.  If you do this alone it will force you into a different mindset away from the linear (and the 'next' button!).

Of course if you don't have any instructional design (or ID) capability then maybe you can fool everyone with smoke and mirrors… it's about now that a few ducks will probably soar past the screen and someone somewhere will probably go ooh! ;)