Browse Tag by learner engagement

You can’t create engaging compliance eLearning!

Image by Gustavo Ferreira Gustavo from Pixabay

Or can it?

A strong statement indeed!  However, it’s one that does seem to be held (but I hope not by the majority).

I had an interesting debate about this recently on one of my courses about designing engaging eLearning.

Actually, the conversation we had was more about whether eLearning that is designed to cover what people should do rather than what they should know would be accepted by the stakeholders requesting the eLearning.  Previously we’d had some great discussions about how scenarios and stories can help the learning come to life and simulate what learners might experience when doing their jobs.  Most people, when asked what they dislike about eLearning, usually talk about the boring, information laden, page after page of text followed by the obligatory multiple choice quiz – or as Cammy Bean recently called “read ’em and weep” eLearning.

Great eLearning focuses on performance.  Allowing learners to exercise their cognitive skills and learn through problem solving.  All learning should be focused on helping people do their jobs properly.  Classroom learning has improved by leaps and bounds packed full of case studies, role plays, realistic and work-based examples designed to replicate as closely as possible their own roles.  They’ve become sandpits where people can experience tasks, make mistakes and learn from each other with immediate, constructive feedback from the facilitator.  

The great news is that eLearning can be designed along the same lines.  It doesn’t matter whether the topic is about learning to give great customer service, identifying fraud, the importance of hand washing in patient care or introducing people to a new purchase ordering software.  In each of these examples people are needing to learn how to do something to a given standard.

Then of course the question has to be how we might assess the learning more appropriately?  How else can we prove we are complying with legal or organisational policies and guidelines than to show we can apply critical thinking to a given situation in which we might be faced with during our day to day job.  Reading pages of dos and don’ts, whys and wherefores and then testing how well we remember them doesn’t prove we can apply a particular piece of legislation to an unexpected situation at work.  The only way we can do that is put people in the situation.  Of course this can still include using multiple choice questions but not the type we are most familiar with.  We just need to be more creative with them by using mini-scenario questions or case studies so we’re testing actions rather than recall.

Is it really impossible?  If you put such a solution forward to address compliance training in eLearning would you be laughed out of the boardroom?  Would your stakeholders just summarily dismiss the idea as unworkable?  My argument is that its more than possible, compliance is crying out for it but you’ll have to sell the benefits carefully.  Will you just assume your stakeholders won’t buy-into it or will you be prepared to spend time and effort in producing something you know will engage and produce real results instead of ticking the attendance boxes?





Image by scott payne from Pixabay

Why is there such resistance by some organisations to producing quality eLearning.  Why are we still faced with this situation where the goal is just to get as many people through the sheep dip as quickly as possible, so they all come out the other end with a stamp to say ‘done’ rather than ‘can do’. In Craig Taylor’s comment to an earlier blog post ‘How do we ensure competency’, he has been faced with the same brick wall.

Perhaps our stakeholders need more persuading.  Perhaps they aren’t aware how compromising the quality of the learning actually has a negative impact on efficiency.  If the learning is poor then organisations will still see costly legal procedures continue, mistakes may still be made and productivity may still be down.  Retraining may be required but if the learning is poor, the whole cycle starts again.

Perhaps organisations are under pressure from their governing bodies to meet ever more demanding targets in shorter time scales that it’s become more about counting virtual bums on virtual seats than making sure staff are fully equipped with the skills to do their jobs.

Perhaps instead of saying how high and jump to the orders from those who really have little experience in producing quality learning solutions, we should change our strategies from being order takers to becoming the consultants we really are.  Supporting learning and performance is everyone’s responsibility, not just the L&D but the line managers, the senior managers and those doing the learning they just could do with a little help.

Only when we know we have tried our best; only when we have put forward all arguments; only when we’ve provided a taster, a working example based on scientific and evidence based practise; only when we’ve managed to pilot and collated feedback; only when we have measured both the efficacy and the efficiency of the solution (like Craig Taylor)can we honestly admit defeat.  At least we can say we’ve done all we can to persuade the skeptics.

If, after all that effort, our conscience is still in turmoil and “if you can’t beat them, join them” is not an option for you, there is only one thing left to do …..

My advice?  Keep chipping away.  Even though your head might bleed from hitting it against that proverbial brick wall, keep going.  As Confucius said “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. Before long you’ll have supporters walking along side and one day the rewards will be great.

Dexter-fests, 24 and lost weekends

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Why do we get so hooked on binge watching?

Recently I curled up on the sofa with my other half, settled down with a mellow glass of red to enjoy an episode or two of Dexter. Now Dexter is one of my favourite US series. For those of you who don’t know anything about this series, you may think I need therapy for being so compelled to watch it. It’s about a serial killer who works for the police as a blood-spatter analyst. Yes… he’s the lead character and despite his unhealthy hobby, he’s the hero (or should it be anti-hero?).

Those fans of the programme actually like him and hope he never gets caught. From watching the previous series and having to wait for a whole week to go by before catching up with the next episode, we decided to record them to watch in bulk. After some mishap with the recordings, I just had to buy the boxed set (Stay with me here…. )

The up-shot is that the two episode evening lasted all weekend. It’s a good job there was nothing more pressing to get done (the ironing could wait!).

We’ve recently started to watch 24. Well, you can imagine what happened although this time we had to be very strict with ourselves.

So what’s the point of all this? Well I started to wonder why we found it so compelling – to sit there and watch episode after episode until our eyes became square (or rather 42 inch wide-screen).


For the love of story

From an early age we love stories. I’ve spoken to many a parent who can almost recite Thomas the Tank Engine word for word from memory or that video of The Little Mermaid is almost unrecognisable after the trillionth time of watching. My brother and his wife are expecting their first child in November and I suspect they’ll be no different. Her Auntie Laura will likely also be caught up in the magical world of story-telling too.

It doesn’t stop though does it? The love of stories? We may grow out of the wide-eyed excitement of being read bed-time stories but the magic doesn’t stop when we grow up. It just grows with us. From Disney films to Dr. Who. From romantic comedies to dark Gothic vampire tales. From the trashy, steamy novel to the complicated thrillers or classical period tales of yester-year. What keeps us so enthralled?

Telling stories began thousands of year in the past. We can see evidence of it from ancient drawings on cave walls. We can imagine travellers recounting tales of their journeys round campfires and then progress meant those words could then be recorded for generations.

I have my own theories by analysing my own love of a good story and would like to share what I like them here.

  • immediate connection with characters
  • emotional connection – empathising with the characters feelings and situations
  • a compelling story line
  • suspense
  • mystery that keeps you guessing what might happen next
  • challenges that put you in the character’s shoes
  • sparking imagination through written words
  • visually stimulating through clever direction and cinematography

In short – I need to believe I could be there. I need to live it and be totally immersed even if it might be the most fantastic tale of hobgoblins and superheroes.


What is it about stories?

In order to satisfy my own curiosity, I set about doing a little (and I mean a little) research into why storytelling has such an impact on us. What I found was fascinating – and it’s only the tip of the storytelling iceberg.

In a New Scientist article by Richard Fisher, entitled ‘the evolving art of storytelling’ he explored the effect an immersive experience of a good book or movie has on our brains. He found that according to neuroscientists and psychologists, areas of our brains react to the emotions the characters are feeling as if we were ‘in their shoes’.

Our brains behave in such a way as if we were experiencing the fiction as if it were our real-world experiences. The reason stories have such a powerful effect is the release of chemicals serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine such compelling stories trigger in our brains. Fisher goes on to review ‘The Art of Immersion’ (available on Kindle) by Frank Rose, which investigates storytelling and how it’s evolved with technology and something those of us who are looking to design experiences in our e-learning and engage our learners might find worth a look (note to self – order this book).

In another article ‘Mind Reading: the science of storytelling’ which referenced the same research reports further that our brains will react the same way regardless whether we are reading the story or watching an action video but the most potent of all is that of the ’emotionally charged story’.

What I found reassuring was the chemical triggers in the brain “explains why we can be lured into watching back-to-back episodes of series” and that “we are empathetically engaged. We are treating this as if it is our real family. We can’t help but care for these people”. So, there you have it. Proof that I’m not really that sad. I may have an addictive personality but the only drugs I may be addicted to are serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine! Although I’m not sure whether I’d like to think a serial killer blood-spatter analyst as family.

What hope is there for eLearning?

Creating engaging eLearning: Part 4

We need to rise up and join the revolution – the eLearning revolution. I am always keen to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of technology. I love how clever programmers can be when creating amazing ‘special effects’ on screen. And yes – the visual design is important but not at the expense of the learning.

When is information just information and why do we think by adding a multiple choice quiz at the end makes it learning? All this does is test immediate recall of the facts. What it doesn’t do is test how this information or knowledge can be transferred to performance. I explored this in my second of this series in creating engaging e-learning where we talked about putting the learning back in eLearning.

Today I received a usual e-mail alert from an award winning e-learning software provider after making an enquiry some time ago. I don’t often have time to look at these alerts but, tonight I decided to take a look at their news. It included examples of e-learning they produce for customers. I must say, I was very impressed with the clever graphics, special effects and novel ways of taking you through screens etc. As I worked through the examples of their portfolio, a question came to mind….

Does flashy programming, great use of graphics and clever special effects equal engaging eLearning? My answer? – No! I totally support that care has to be taken when designing the visuals (more of that in later posts) but what really engages the learner is how they use their brains, not their fingers on the mouse.

If only the eLearning companies asked their learners what they hate about eLearning they will find out they can’t stand clever ways of dressing up information where they just click or roll over to reveal more information. What learners are crying out for is to be able to think for themselves, to solve problems – realistic, work-based, relevant problems..

I’ve seen an example of a timeline where the ‘interaction’ is merely moving the mouse back and forth through the timeline ribbon and rolling over images for more information about key events. Again, I loved the graphics, the colours and the visual design but, in my opinion, this is just e-information. (I have already differentiated between e-information and eLearning in a previous post.) Now e-information certainly has its place but there’s no cognitive application involved. It’s just passive exposition.

As a result of looking at these examples I thought I would re-think some of them to give you some ideas of how to make your own designs more engaging by incorporating the right sort of interaction.

Another example where I love the visuals: the learner clicks to turn the pages of a book where they read a case study (the producer refers to it as a scenario). This is a super, visually engaging way of displaying information. But that’s all it is – oh and guess what? It is followed by a really long multiple choice quiz where learners are ‘tested’ on the content. A lovely idea initially, but why not use the case study to act as a problem solving activity where the learners have to make the decisions as they go along on behalf of the people in the scenario? The story could be told in installments and it is unlikely we will ‘lose’ our learners along the way.

Let’s think about another example:

The learner is shown a beautiful image of a coral reef. Again the visuals are superbly set with clear thought to relevance and placement. To the right of the photo but set within an aquatic template is a whole bunch of text. What is the ‘interaction’ planned for the learner? Well, the learner has to grab the [thin non-standard?] scroll bar to read more text because there is too much to go on the screen. What does this text give us? A heap of facts telling us about the threats faced by coral reefs from man and the environment! And, yes – you’ve guessed it – another obligatory multiple choice quiz. Does this put the learner at the heart of the coral reef? Does it help the learner understand the consequences of their actions? Not really – just regurgitating facts again.

For those starting out on the e-learning design journey they take these examples as best practice and replicate them.  ‘What would I do differently? No…. I’m not going to tell you…. What would you do differently????

I would love to hear some of your own ideas of creating real interactive learning activities. C’mon let’s start that eLearning revolution