Tuesday, April 20, 2010

5 Unlearnable Elements in Your eLearning

What are the 5 unlearnable elements that all IDs should steer clear off?

1. Definitions

Definitions (especially poorly written ones) are
not important. Look at a few examples.

Negotiable instrument is a written document by which a right is created in favour of some person and this is transferable by delivery.


Credit is the provision of resources by one party to another party where that second party does not reimburse the first party immediately.

Sounds confusing!

Direct manipulation is a human-computer interaction style which involved continuous representation of objects of interest and rapid, reversible, incremental actions and feedback.

Now in English please...

How many of us are comfortable introducing a concept using a definition? Have we ever stopped to wonder how effective these definitions are? Here's what we typically do: Start any module with a definition because it makes the content look authentic. Then, we go on to simplify the definition further. If we stop to think about it, we may just realize how unlearnable these definitions are.

Definitions are meant to simplify a concept. Help understand an idea/process better. Why is it important to share a definition when you can jump directly to the explanation? I remember in school how I had all the important definitions by heart. But looking back now, the visual depiction of evaporation or osmosis was far more useful in understanding the concept. Think about it. Is it important for a manager to know the definition of conflict or identify a conflict situation and react appropriately? Don't bother with definitions. They only intimidate or confuse the learner further and serve no learning purpose.

2. History

Why does man have the urge to start from the beginning? Why is it so important to know what happened in the past? When I learnt about computers, it started with history of computers. When I learnt about the Internet, it started with history. When I learn about Search Engines, it starts with history. Really, how important is this information to me? What can I do with the knowledge of history? When can you use history?
  • Teach a scientist the history of a particular theory because it may important for him to know: 'This has already been tried and the results were 'this'.
  • When you want to drive home the important of a current process vs a previous process. Common Craft Videos do this beautifully.
Don't use it unless it is absolutely critical to learning. If your SME insists, move it to references.

3. Information dump

Some eLearning applications look like a dump of information. What we need to understand is that SMEs (at least 99% of them) will give you information. Let me share an instance with you. I was handed responsibility of storyboarding for a technical skill-based course. I had a never ending content dump. Most of the content in this was theoretical and could be classified under information. When I asked the SME for examples to substantiate the theory, the SME told me: 'We have done all the research that need to be done. So you don't need any more information. All you need to do is make it learnable.' Sure. I didn't give up and thankfully I had another very cooperative SME. I would surf the Internet for suitable examples and get it validated. The content dump and the course look completely different.

Next time you dump information in your storyboard, dont bother. Just mail the word document to the learners. Your eLearning is as learnable as the content dump. No one is going to give you information in the learnable format. It is our job to make it learnable. Make information learnable. Remove all the necessary content and get the real stuff out.

4. Visuals

Simply putting an attractive visual on the screen will not help the learner learn. I have seen SBs where the visuals are based on the least important information on the screen. Focus on designing learnable, useful visuals. They must support and reinforce what is being described.

5. Exercises

Exercises for the sake of it is a pure waste of time. The usefulness of the exercise is in danger if it is:
1. Very obvious
  • the question is poorly designed and gives the answers away
  • the question is really not important/too simplistic
  • The question does not require much thought (while designing or solving)
2. Forced (because I have to add an exercise after 10 screens)

Exercises also have to be learnable. They have to have a purpose. They must make the learner think.

Next time, we start storyboarding let us not start with the definition, move to the history, dump information on screens, provide useless visuals, and add pointless exercises at regular intervals. What are the other common used unlearnable elements that you have witnessed?


Geetha Krishnan said...

Anything misused or ill-treated is avoidable.

There is a place for definitions in learning; but if they are written they way your examples show, then off with them. But are they needed in learning? I would think yes. They are foundational content.

History is relevant if we are gleaning some current learning from it. If I am learning Java programming, I don't need to learn about Charles Babbage. But if I am learning how the human mind works, a trip into some historical studies is useful.

Information is good, but not when it is dumped.

Visuals & Exercises - see the first line of my comment.

Archana Narayan said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Geetha. Completely agree with the first line. :)

About definitions, I think I would use them wisely based on the need, my audience, and the clarity of the definition itself. If my audience needs to understand a concept, I would much rather illustrate using an example. It could be my mindset against definitions as most of them seem too formal and seem to have multiple ideas in one sentence. It almost always needs further explanation. (Having said this, I do appreciate well written definitions)

About history, another thought that struck me while reading your comment was that history can also for the following:
1. Build inspiration or motivation
2. Make them feel they belong to an organization that has done great stuff

These really attract the learner's attention. Sharing a one off experience: A client of us had once insisted on inserting a video on history. The video was shot abroad and the narrator was Australian. The audience was Indian and were more comfortable in their own mother tongue. The video itself for 20 minutes long. I saw this video as more detrimental for learning. My point the ID really needs to weigh out the pros and cons and decide whether that particular element is learnable or not.

PS: I do wish you would write more often. :)

Alex_tom said...

Of course Geetha I am 100% agree with. The way you thought is marvelous. I appreciate you for writing that type of post. I am also connecting with E-Learning but the problems you maintained above are 100% true ! . Thanks for sharing !!!


Study 8 Home

Alex_tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ritu said...

I’m assigned with a task of creating an instructional animation (say around 10 to 12 minutes long animation) for a classroom training....how I can make it interesting...apart from adding text labels and bullets...This animation will be self running..no interactivities….will teach learner’s about some procedure steps.
How can grab learner's attention without any interactivity?

Please share some thoughts!!

Archana Narayan said...

Hi Ritu. I am not sure I can help without a background about the learners, the context, the goal, and on so.

Is it a gain attention, i.e, introduction of a process? I find videos very useful to capture the learner's interest. But you mention that you have to design an instructional animation. You could also try high impact images that break myths or tell a story leading to the process.

Not sure if that was of help. :) You can mail me and give me more background and perhaps then I can help.

best payday loans said...

Hi! Comprehension is a vital factor in learning, having a foundation in the learning discipline is way too complex, but if one is determined and persevered well, perhaps he or she can learn even though there is grammatical errors or what so ever.

Self motivation is the key to learning.

Thanks for sharing!