10 Things to Take Out of Elearning

“In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped”  –  Lao-Tsu – The Tao Te Ching

Designers of eLearning are creative people who want everyone to love what they do. They want to put in all the newest and best ideas into their work. Unfortunately learners don’t always want or need what is produced. I may be called a heretic by my more traditionalist friends but I propose to do away with some elements of typical eLearning that have been thought to be sacred cows. I am suggesting that these elements be reduced or at least questioned, not done away with altogether.:

1. Text

What? How can you get rid of text? I’m not talking about all the text, just those big pools of text crammed into bullet points. Large portions of text would be easier to process if they were presented in this nifty thing called an Article. People are quite familiar with them. If you put this text in Wikis or Blogs, they can be linked to, edited, updated and commented on with no additional costs. Making learners page through text makes it seem like you don’t think they can read. Give them text in the format that they are comfortable with. The text that remains should be concise and jargon free and it should be treated like a graphic element.

2. Audio

The conventional wisdom goes like this: You need to engage all of a learner’s senses and you need to accommodate for people’s learning styles. The problem is that our brains have only one channel for handling text whether spoken or written. Reading and being read to at the same time is annoying and disruptive. People are able to adapt their learning styles: visual people attend speeches, kinesthetic people read maps. Also, the advantages of audio are not worth the cost. Don’t stop at the production costs. The maintenance costs are what will get you. Content changes but rerecording audio is painfully expensive. Audio should be reserved for clear stand alone messages delivered by people the learners trust.

3. Abstract Animation

Bouncing balls and swirling 3d bars are gee whiz cool, but what are they for? I love abstract animation but not in eLearning. If it doesn’t serve the learning objectives and is just eye candy then it is not worth the costs and only serves to inflate the developers egos.

4. The slow reveal

Nothing will put you to sleep faster than having each bullet point sssssssslowwwwly slide down the screen. Doling out text to learners as if they can’t handle a logical flow of ideas is incredibly patronizing. It wastes time and insults the learner.

5. Meaningless interaction

Interaction seems to be the name of the game in eLearning striving to differentiate itself from PowerPoint slides. Interactivity does raise engagement but not if it is meaningless. Providing a model that moves around in 3 dimensions showing it’s inner workings is a valuable tool but making the learner choose which text is revealed in which order on a slide is not genuine interaction and again just serves to annoy the learner.

6. Long objectives

Learners do want to know why they are taking the module but if you can’t explain it concisely, there is something wrong with your objectives.

7. Instructions for using the course

If you need instructions for an eLearning module, then there is something wrong with your user interface design. Amazon doesn’t have instructions. Why should you?

8. Navigation buttons

Slick buttons that make your screen look like a 67 Cadillac are just wasting real estate. They serve no purpose for the learner. What’s wrong with the navigation conventions common on all websites:

< << 1 2 3 4 5 >> >

9. Multiple choice quizzes

Multiple Choice Quizes demonstrate your ability to guess. They encourage smart users to “game” the system. They do not demonstrate learning. There are other assessment tools that are more effective.

10. Clip art of beautiful people in business suits

No one works with these people. No one relates to them. Stick figures would be more engaging.

If you take away these staples of the eLearning industry, what is left? Well, a lot of potentially valuable content is what remains: concise ideas, diagrams that increase understanding, engaging videos like SME’s telling their stories, business-based simulations, and the king of interactivity: the simple hyperlink. Links in eLearning open up a whole world of content if only learning organizations would let go of their fear of losing control of the learning experience.

I’m looking for examples of eLearning that eschew these conventions. Post links here if you see any. Also, feel free to challenge my assertions, and show some examples. I love to be proved wrong. It’s a great way to learn.

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7 thoughts on “10 Things to Take Out of Elearning

  1. Pingback: Daily link digest | Doug Woods

  2. Pingback: The Sound of Silence | Social Learning Blog

  3. A great list 🙂
    Your #7 (Navigation controls) are one of my favourite subjects. Remember – these are the same people that watch a course, then go and play on an iPod/Pad/SmartPhone at lunchtime. They (mostly) KNOW how to navigate a course!

  4. Pingback: 10 Things to Take Out of Elearning (via Creating Understanding) « Onlinelearn – Thoughts on Course Design

  5. You are right, we seem to be able to use the navigation on shopping websites and other content that we want to look at without any trouble. Why do we assume that consumers of eLearning are unable to navigate our content? And why do we think they would be engaged just because our navigation buttons look like the dashboard of a 67 chevy? 🙂

  6. Excellent post! I think that your number 5 point is the most important. I was just reading an article about how elearning can only be beneficial if the learner is engaged and committing the things they learn to their long term memory. Another article I was reading talked about having the narration differ from what is on the slides. It is similar to your number 4 point. Although a slow presentation can be boring, having all of the points showing at once can also cause learners to get disctracted. While researching best practices for elearning, I cam across a conference being held this September in Anaheim, California by a company called 2elearning.com. It sounds interesting and if you are in the area, definitely check it out. I hope this information finds you well, and thanks for the informative post. Cheers!

  7. Excellent post! I think that your number 5 point is the most important. I was just reading an article about how elearning can only be beneficial if the learner is engaged and committing the things they learn to their long term memory. Another article I was reading talked about having the narration differ from what is on the slides. It is similar to your number 4 point. Although a slow presentation can be boring, having all of the points showing at once can also cause learners to get distracted. While researching best practices for elearning, I cam across a conference being held this September in Anaheim, California by a company called 2elearning.com. It sounds interesting and if you are in the area, definitely check it out. I hope this information finds you well, and thanks for the informative post. Cheers!

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