Friday, January 22, 2010

Elearning Without Envy

Here we are again. Another week, another Deadly Sin to cleanse from our elearning. This week we’re going to check the green-eyed monster called Envy. Mr. Envy is like the Hulk. He’s a normal, sweet guy, but once provoked he’s a seething pit moshing psycho on a mission. Lest that be us, here’s some ways to quell the jealousy.

Just to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing, let’s start with the Wikipedia definition:

Envy (also called invidiousness) may be defined as an emotion that "occurs when a person lacks another's (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it."
What Is Elearning Envy?

What does this have to do with elearning? I’m thinking it’s like the time I went to an elearning demo put on by Big Name Training Company. Man, did they ever have great stuff. Their training simulations were so slick, so cool, so…what I wanted, nay, needed, to have. Immediately I wanted to rush back to my workbench and start chiseling, hammering, gouging and whatever else it took or cost to craft something like that. Wouldn’t it look nice on my resume. Wouldn’t it be so shiny and pretty. Everyone would love me. My life would be complete and I’d be lauded for time ever more.

Sound familiar, even a teensy weensy less-dramatic bit?

Basically, I sum up elearning envy as wanting the Bling for Bling’s sake. Who doesn’t want their elearning to be pretty and do cool things and make people stop and say Wow? Who doesn’t want to play with all the new technology and tools? But having a reason to get your elearning all gussied up is another matter. And then there’s also the whole worth thing. Sure there might be a reason to buy a fancy, new car – but is it worth it?

Stop the Elearning Envy Train

Consider what performance the Bling would effect. Is that performance worthwhile? Take a look at Thomas Gilbert’s notion of worth at Dave’s Whiteboard. No effect, no dice. No worth, no deal. Take a look at Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping to help hone in on what should be in the training.

Recognize what you have. Get creative with your tools. All you have is PowerPoint? Then get yourself a copy of Powerful PowerPoint for Educators. You can do quizzes, calculate results, branching, all sorts of things expensive tools do. No pretty graphics? Use the Microsoft Gallery, which is free as long as you own Office. Need other media, check the Creative Commons site for all sorts of great *free* media.

Learn a programming language. Okay, I hear the groans already. But sometimes, bypassing tools and being able to do it yourself unlocks your potential. I don’t do it often anymore, but when necessary, using HTML, JavaScript, and CSS can let you churn out some great stuff. Without needing software tools that cost thousands of dollars.

Take into account cognitive load. Do you really want to use video, animation, voiceover, avatars, podcasts, and flying monkeys? Instead of spending hundreds of hours building all of that, spend 3 hours reading up on some Ruth Clark articles. From the library or the Internet. For free. You might save yourself a lot of hassle.

Fall back on the real basics. Great analogies. Simple, but clear drawings. Stories that illustrate. Job aids that they’ll use. A place to take notes. The ARCS model, which focuses on attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction.

The lesson here is that Bling is not an indication of true value. All the Bling in the world won’t make your students learn. It won’t even make them give high marks on a smile sheet. Students want to know that their needs are met, that they are learning what they need to, and that they can use the skills/knowledge from the training. They’ll put up with crappy media. They’ll put up with shoddy materials. But they won’t put up with crappy results and content. Give them what matters.

For fun, tell me your elearning envy story. Or, share your tricks for keeping the right things in focus. I hope I'm not alone in this!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lose the Wrath in Elearning

Good e-learning doesn’t just happen and great e-learning takes a lot of thought. But bad elearning, well, that’s easy. How do I count the ways in which elearning can veer off the Happy Road and do a spectacular gut-wrenching dive towards death? Using the Seven Deadly Sins of course---it’s only fitting. I’ll cover each of the seven sins separately, and I’ll begin with Wrath.

Wikipedia: also known as anger or "rage", may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. These feelings can manifest as vehement denial of the truth, both to others and in the form of self-denial, impatience with the procedure of law, and the desire to seek revenge outside of the workings of the justice system (such as engaging in vigilantism) and generally wishing to do evil or harm to others.
Applied to training, I interpret avoiding wrath to mean, “Don’t hate on the student.”

Fundamental to teaching adults (or andragogy) is the principle that adults have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Whether classroom or elearning or m or s or whatever type of learning, it helps to know that your students are intelligent, have relevant experience to share, and want to excel.

How can this be applied to elearning?
Let the student have as much control of the course as is possible. Let the student skip pages or questions,  provide multiple paths through the course, let the student move forward as well as backward, encourage the student to cheat during tests, and provide choices.
Make things difficult.
Do not design for the “lowest common denominator.” Design for experts and experts you shall have. (And what happens if you do the opposite? Design for dummies and….) If using branching scenarios, make the options tough and ambiguous. When writing, go ahead and use big words, heck, use big thoughts. Do whatever you can to challenge your learners. Don’t let them settle in to the course for a rest. Keep them active and thinking. Make them feel their synapses firing.
Don’t get up on your high horse.
Keep in mind that you’re one adult speaking to another adult. So, while I said to go ahead and use big words, that doesn’t mean to get all proper about it. Conversational is better. And, don’t be all “you should” and “I’m telling you.” Lead the way, but unless absolutely necessary, show the way instead of telling the way.

Well, that covers Wrath. Love thy student. Do you have other instances of how not to hate on the student? Add ‘em below. More deadly sins will be coming soon.