Sunday, March 16, 2008


8 p.m. Right. Ridiculous to have had a video for two years and never to have been able to record anything. Also is marvelous FV 67 HV VideoPlus. Simple matter of following operating instructions, locating buttons, etc., certain.

8:15 p.m. Humph. Cannot locate operating instructions.

8.35 p.m. Hah! Found operating instructions under Hello!. Right. 'Programming your video is as easy as making a phone call.' Excellent.

8.40 p.m. 'Point the remote control at the video recorder.' V. easy. 'Turn to index.' Aargh, horror list with 'Timer controlled simultaneous HiFi sound recordings', 'the decorder needer for encoded programmes', etc. Merele wish to record Penny Husbands-Bosworth's rant, not spend all evening reading treatise on spying techniques.

8.50 p.m. Ah. Diagram. 'Buttons for IMC functions'. But what are IMC functions?

8.55 p.m. Decide to ignore that page. Turn to 'Timer-controlled recordings with VideoPlus': '1. Meet the requirements for VideoPlus.' What requirements? Hate the stupid video. Feel exactly the same when trying to follow signposts on roads. Know in heart that signposts and video manual do not make sense but still cannot believe authorities would be so cruel as to deliberately dupe us all. Feel incompetent fool and as if everyone else in the world understands something which is being kept from me.

- Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1996)

In this small part, Helen Fielding touches on various issues such as usability, effectiveness of help manuals, and how an average user feels when they are not able to carry out a particular task. There are several electronic equipments/instruments that make you feel like an '... incompetent fool and as if everyone else in the world understands something which is being kept from me.' Am I that dumb? Are others more 'tech savvy' that me? Nope! The truth is that instruments are not user-friendly or they are not 'usable'. I spend my time trying to learn how to operate the instrument. Is this fair?

So, we know that most of instruments are not usable. How do the manufactures make up for this flaw? You guessed it! They write help manuals. (smart aren't they?) Are these really useful? Judging from Bridget's experience, I guess not. The help manuals are so full off jargons that you need to have designed the equipment to know what it means. Wait a minute.... if I had designed the equipment, I would know how to use it and would not actually need a manual. Hmm, I guess the audience is not defined and the attempt to make it easy for the reader falls flat.

Not only are these instruments not usable, they end up making you feel stupid. Bridget is not feeling too good about herself. I have come across so many people who feel small because they do not know how to operate a particular particular phone. The users should not be made to feel inefficient as it is not their fault! It is the instruments fault.

Technology is meant to make lives easier not complicate it further... Let's hope people begun to take usability issues more seriously and actually design instruments that are a pleasure to use.

(Thanks to Helen Fielding for writing such a hilarious and amazing book.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Games & elearning

The typical mindset about using design game elements in elearning is “We don’t have that kind of budget!” But really, are we trying to design a Grand Theft Auto or Need for Speed? You can design game elements in a modest budget. How you ask? Focus on the game elements that you can use in your elearning application. Simplify these elements to ensure that they fit your budget.

Which game elements can you use in your elearning application?

  • Rewards and punishments
  • Sub goals to attain the main goal
  • Learner control
  • Decision making
  • Experiential learning
  • Feel good factors (motivation and encouragement)
  • Challenges
  • Storyline or theme
  • Interesting environment
  • Highly visual impact
  • Decision trees or branching stories
  • Innovative navigation
  • Thrill and adrenaline surge
There are certain game elements that hinder learning. Beware of these:
  • Time based challenges
  • Exploratory approach
  • Abrupt end to the game if challenge is not achieved
  • Feedback has to be construed by the player
  • Complicated interface or rules that need to be learned first
  • Challenging tasks that you take days to get past
Several research indicate that today most learners are vivid gamers. We as learning professional can use this to our advantage. Remember though that game-based approach is only another approach and not necessarily the only approach. This approach should be used depending on the learner's profile and the bloom's levels.

Good Vs. Evil

Software Professional: Hi, what do you do?
Me: Am an instructional designer, elearning.... we design training modules
Software Professional (cynical look on his face): Oh....
Me: Oh? What do you mean.... oh?
Software Professional: So, you are the guys who design those boring courses that we have to go through.... they put me to sleep... tell me something, I am a computer engineer, why should I go through a course of communication skills? Seems very irrelevant....

At this point, I get all defensive and give a huge speech about how Kern is different and that we do a lot of research to ensure that the courses are relevant, motivating and interesting. But the software professional continues to look at me with an I-don't-think-so expression and a raised eyebrow. I give up and maintain a sulking expression for the rest of the evening.

It is not this guy's fault that he holds a very low opinion about elearning courses. Once bitten, twice shy is the expression that comes to mind. At work, he is required to take several courses off the LMS. He does not know why he must take them. Some courses may be relevant to him while others are not. The courses are so boring and irrelevant that motivation is extremely low. The HR also seems to add courses because they 'have' to show this in their calender. Most of these courses are text heavy with poor visual graphics. They might as well read a book. It is a torture to sit through these courses. I was hardly surprised when this guy confessed, "I just click Next and be done with it."

Even if I scream from the rooftops that we are different, these guys are not going to believe us. Why should they? They have had to put up with really bad stuff. This just goes to show how many bad courses are out there. Our work is made even more difficult because of these courses. We need to fight this bias against elearning and ensure that our work is radically different to gain their attention and respect.

Lets all say no to boring courses that prejudice our learners! Lets try harder to design courses that motivate and inspire people to learn. May the good triumph over the evil.....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Duration of a course

How long do you think a good course should be? The answer is "It depends". I don't believe in standards such as a good course should not be too long, too short, and so on. How can we reach a conclusion without doing our research and understanding the requirements? A good course should be as long or short as it should be. Not helping, am I? Let me try and explain.

The duration of a course is decided based on stakeholders' requirements, learner profile and requirements, training gaps, table of content, organizational objectives, and learning objectives (if I have missed anything important, please do share). The more focused the objectives, the easier it would be to allocate duration. If it covers everything, it is bound to be ridiculously long and not very effective. For these kind of situations, we can suggest that the course be split into focused sections or parts. For a particular project, we came across a situation where the learner was not be able to spend more that ten minutes at a stretch for learning. We designed the course such that the content was divided into learning nuggets of 5-10 minute duration. You may have also come across situations where the learner is able to devote only half an hour per day for training. Now, this does not mean that we cramp everything within that half hour.

Think of a really good movie you saw. What is not important is how long is the movie but how good it is. I have seen two hour-movies that have been extremely painful to sit through. On the other hand, I have also seen 3 hour movies that I have enjoyed. When the movie is good, you don't realize how much time has passed. Now, this does not mean that we make our courses really long. Remember, how irritated we get when an unnecessary song or scene is a part of a movie. This is what I meant by courses should be as long or short as they should be.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

How do I explain what I do?

This question is directed towards all instructional designers. Have you ever been asked what you do and received a blank look in return. Don't know about you, but I have come across such situations several times. I am then forced to explain what elearning is and then what ID is. If I continue to get blank stares, I resort to saying, "Well, we are into training." People understand this better.

So, what is instructional design? You must have come across several definitions. Let's not get into that (some are vague while others are complicated!). I think ID is the most effective way to teach a particular concept. There are several methods that we can use to teach a particular concept. For eg. you could teach the concept of evaporation by explaining the process in words, using a story, a diagram, or a combination of these. As an ID, what we need to identify is which strategy will facilitate learning. All forms of training, whether elearning or classroom, use instructional design to impart learning. The main difference is the tools used to teach are different. ID also includes:
  • identifying the desired Bloom's level
  • designing the scope of content and arriving at a consensus regarding the course duration
  • understanding the learners' needs and ensuring ways to guarantee motivation
  • choosing the most appropriate media to teach
  • identifying methods to ensure retention and transfer of learning
  • using strategies to ensure high impact and immediate understanding
  • introducing assessments to help the learner understand where they stand
  • designing course that meets learner's expectations
I have no idea whether this information will help us explain what we do. But at least we are clear about it. :)