Thursday, March 26, 2009

Audio - A Gamble?

Audio is a crucial aspect of an elearning application. There are lots of courses that do not have audio. These courses can still be good if the learner hates audio. But audio can play an important role in learning. Audio:
  • Sets the tone for your course. If the audio is formal, the theme of your course will be formal. If the audio is humorous, the theme of your course is light and humorous.
  • Adds a personal touch by giving your course a personality. This does not apply for robot-like audio.
  • Captures learner's attention.
  • Completes the learning experience.
  • Reinforces learning by supplementing visuals and content.
Using audio in your course can be a gamble. If you do not play your cards right, you may end up ruining your course even if the ID strategy and theme is great. You need to keep in mind the following:

1. How much audio do I include in the course?
This is the most important and the most difficult question. Further questions that arise:
  • Do I have the audio artists read everything from the screen? Please don't have the audio artist read everything (especially if your screens are content heavy). It is very distracting and unnecessary. Kern conducts learner testing to check the effectiveness of a course before its roll out. We have seen learners look for audio mute/off button several times. They are thinking, I can read the content, thank you very much. We have also seen occasions on which audio is different from the OST and this troubles the learner. He/she feels that there is a variation in what is being said in the audio and what is written on screen.
  • Do I just include the main gist of what is being covered in the screen? You can do this. However, ensure that your audio captures the most crucial information and does not sound abrupt. Sometimes, you just wait for the audio to continue but it doesn't.
  • Do I include audio for just the important screens? Please don't do this. Imagine the learner listening to a para long audio on a screen. He moves to the next screen and meets silence. It can be very awkward. I have seen this during learner testing. You can see the learners anticipating, waiting for the audio to start. I am almost tempted to lean over and say You can move on now.
  • Do I include separate audio for the characters? Your could do this depending on your budget. But it can be a nightmare to get the tone and the pitch right for multiple audio artists.
2. Should the audio supplement content or vice versa?
Actually, it depends on the ID strategy you use for the course. If your course is highly visual, the audio will play a crucial role as it may act as a link between the screens. There are course in which the audio drones on and on, while nothing happens on the screen. This can hinder learning. The learner may switch off after sometime. Either reduce the audio, split the screens, or add animation to supplement the audio. Can you imagine staring at a screen waiting for the audio to get over? On the other hand, do not make a text heavy course, audio heavy. Like I already mentioned, it can be quite irritating for the learner. Find the right balance between audio and visuals.

3. Does the audio have the desired impact?
Yes! You have identified how much audio you want to use. You have also found the right balance between audio and visuals. Now, what else can go wrong?
  • An unprofessional audio artist can ruin your course. If the tone and pitch is not right, the course will sound bad.
  • If the audio is too fast or too slow, it could kill learner motivation.
  • If the audio is not in sync with what is happening on screen, it will confuse the learner.
  • If the audio is not edited well, it will ruin the course even if your audio artist is really good.
4. How can audio add value?
Audio in terms of background music can increase the imapct of the gain attention screen. Audio can also play a crucial role when used to indicate correct and incorrect feedback. This may be the best way to avoid 'That's correct' and 'That's incorrect' feedback. Audio plays an important role in games. It increases the thrill and increases the learner's curiosity.

There is no standard rule or guideline to say you can use this much audio in your course. Use audio wisely. Ensure that it has the desired impact. Use it to aid learning and make learning experience more pleasureable.

Friday, March 13, 2009

When are personality tests useful?

I met a few training professionals who use DISC, a personality assessment to analyze people. They observe the person for sometime and then come to a conclusion about which personality traits (combination of D, I, S, and/or C) they portray. I asked one of them how this information helps them. He explained that knowing a personality helps me deal with the person at work. As a trainer, I answer a query/response based on the personality that my learner depicts. I also know that I need to have a high 'I' for my audience to 'like' me. They have to like me to want to listen to me. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it.

How are personality tests useful in learning? When can they be used? Here are my thoughts:
  • Personality tests are extremely useful when you want the learner to reflect on his/her own personality.
  • These tests are useful when you need to bring about a behavioral change. For example: For a salesperson, there are a list of attributes that he must have and others that are undesirable. We can use personality tests to check where the learner is, deliver learning, and check where the learner to identify if a behavioral change has taken place.
  • These tests will definitely help us understand the learner profile better. We can design courses keeping the dominant characteristics in mind.
Some thoughts that follow these points:
  • Does a behavioral change mean a personality change? Do we understand the deficiencies in our personality and consciously work on them? I guess, personalities are also outcomes of a person's socio-historic context (the environment). This would mean that our personalities are constantly changing based on our experiences.
  • Will the audience show a specific personality pattern? This could happen. If we take the salesperson's example again. When a company hires their sales executives, they look specific characteristics features. How confident is this person? Will he/she be able to hold my attention for long? Will he/she be able to convince/persuade me? So, they may show a specific pattern. (If anyone knows for sure, please share.)
  • Would it be more useful in classroom training? You interact with the learner directly. Based on how they behave, you quickly categorize them and respond accordingly. It sounds like a tough job.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Myth about eLearning and Interactivity

At a social gathering, I explained that I work as an ID at Kern Communications. A person (Rajeev's idol cum mentor from the training fraternity) said you are more into elearning. Elearning is not that interactive, it is very forced.

These words have been ringing in my head. Why did do people think elearning is not interactive and forced? Here are my guesses:
  1. Learners do not interact with other learners.
  2. Some really bad elearning courses have ruined elearning's reputation.
  3. The learner has to complete the course.
(Can't think of any more. Please add if you remember more.)

Now, coming to point 1. Interactivity can be cognitive, social, and clicks (motor if you wish to call it that). If the training is poorly designed, cognitive interaction is not going to happen anyway. The person (I was referring to earlier) meant that elearning lacked social interactivity (learners interacting with learners). My response was to point out how web 2.0 fills that gap. But, I was still not satisfied with my response. With eLearning, social interactivity has been always a part of the learning process in the form of informal learning.
  • After you take the course (or even as you take the course), the learners share/exchange notes with other learners.
  • Some courses provide access to other learners and experts via chat rooms, forums, emails, and so on.
Can't do much about point 2, but pray that people start doing things right. I hope they begin to understand that click interactivity does not help people learn. Having text box or a fancy tabbed presentation is not sufficient. A click is just a click.

Coming to point 3, if elearning is forced because the learner has to complete the course, so is any other form of training (especially if the learner motivation is low). Like Tony Karrer mentioned in his blog post, at least the learner can click next and finish the course.

Read more on interactivity here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Using Game Elements in eLearning

The typical mindset regarding use of game elements in elearning is "We don't have that kind of budget!" But, are we trying to design a high end graphic game? You can use game elements in a modest budget. How you ask? Let us think about the elements that make a game and which of these can be used for an elearning application.
  • Rewards and punishments
  • Goals and sub goals
  • Learner control
  • Decision making
  • Experiential learning
  • feel good factors (encouragement, sense of achievement/victory)
  • Challenges
  • Storyline/theme/drama
  • Environment/context
  • Characters and their personalities
  • Highly visual depiction of events
We had designed an elearning application for counselors in an English training institute. We designed a decision tree with branching stories. Given below is the description of how we included game elements in elearning.
  • Rewards and punishments were displayed in terms of the reaction of the customer to a particular action taken by the learner and points gained. The reaction of customer is unpleasant for the least appropriate answer and the points gained is zero. The reaction of the customer is positive for the most appropriate answer and the points gained is maximum. The learner is given the opportunity to recover from unpleasant situation.
  • The main goal of the course was to make a successful sale. The sub goals were successful application of the steps of the counseling process.
  • The learner makes decisions and experiences the consequences of his/her own actions. They get an opportunity to reflect on the events.
  • Each customer was given a distinct personality. The learner had to understand the customers' personalities and respond accordingly.
  • Customers' personalities helped decide what their typical response to a situation would be. Therefore, the situations were also clearly defined.
While using game elements in an elearning process, there are certain points that you must remember:
  1. Avoid time-based tasks unless the skill to be mastered requires the learner to complete a particular taks within a specified time. For example: A call center executive has put the customer on hold to retreive some information the syste, The executive has to ensure that he/she informs the customer about how much time it might take and retreive the relevant information within this time.
  2. Ensure that you do not have a parallel story. Invariably, the game/story aspect takes precedence over the learning. For example: Have you seen the demo on Peter Packet? This is a perfect example of this. The main aim of the game is to teach the learner about how the Internet functions. This demo begins with a story about how an Indian girl is unable to go to school. Peter has carry a packet to help the mail reach this girl in time. Peter then has to make his way through by jumping over other packets, avoiding viruses, going through a router, acquiring a key and finally completing the message. When I first played the game, I thought the main intention of the demo was to convey a social message. The information about Internet is displayed in pop up boxes that I can close if I am more involved in the game.
  3. Ensure that you tie the loose ends, especially for branching stories. You do not want your learner to get stuck during the learning program.
  4. The storyline should have sufficient information so that the learner can make an informed decision.
  5. Feedback should be designed very carefully. It must have the desired impact. If you are not displaying a 'that's correct or incorrect' message, ensure that the learner understands clearly when he/she got it right and vice versa.