Thursday, June 21, 2012

Do Games Teach?

Recently, I came across an article titled Why Games Don't Teach from Ruth Clark. The article sparked a lot of controversy and debate in the learning circles, primarily because of its title. Karl Kapp even responded back to Ruth's article with Games Teach. And, he quoted various researches to prove his point.

Personally, I do think that Ruth's views about the value games bring to e-learning actually make a lot of sense. So far, I haven’t seen many few game-like components that work for learners. Mostly, in the effort to provide a game-like feel to a course, we end up adding unnecessary complexity and hampering learning. Any unnecessary complexity kills the learning experience, and that's what most of the so-called games do. This view is substantiated by the experimental evidence provided by Ruth in the section “Beware Masquerading Your Content in Game Costume” in her article.

However, the entire controversy sparked by Ruth’s article is also because of the lack of a formal definition for games in e-learning. What most learning designers call games are scenario-based simulations with game-based interfaces. And, there is no doubt about the fact that simulations work. What can work better than experiential learning in a simulated environment, anyway. A simulation teaches the real-world application and in some ways "looks" like a game.

So, I hold my view unless I see a game (and not a game-based interface or a simulation) in e-learning that actually teaches . Do let me know if you come across any.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Storytelling: When Does it Work?

"Storytelling" as a communication tool has been around for years and is very powerful too. For e-learning, I used to think that stories typically work to grab attention etc. A passive story running through the course? Too boring! Over a period of time, I discovered that even passive storytelling works for the following:

1. Establishing the training need: There can't be a better way to grab learners' attention, for sure. Training employees on a new system/application implemented in the organization? Tell them how it helped a certain employee with a similar profile and get them hooked.

2. Connecting various topics: Weave the magical connection by having  an overarching story for the training course, and connect different topics using smaller stories derived from the same story. Apart from building connections, stories help break the monotony, build motivation, and reinforce teaching points.

3. Teaching abstract topics: A subject that is not literal or experiential (by five senses, that is) may get difficult to explain. Nothing works better than using stories and analogies from real life to transfer these concepts effectively. Need to sensitize people about avoiding debt? Tell them a story about how debt spelled doom for certain characters and see the results.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Role of an Instructional Designer

The primary role of an Instructional Designer is to develop training materials that are instructionally sound to the learners. In other words, when developing a training material, the Instructional Designer not only has to focus on writing the content but also has to think and visualize on how to make the content interesting to the learners. Therefore, apart from good writing skills, it is essential that an Instructional Designer should be creative, innovative, and a good visualizer, have a knack for attention to details and out of the box solutions, and always possess good comprehension skills.

Most of the times, the role of an Instructional Designer seems to be limited to designing and making the training ready for development for a project. However, due to the diverse characteristics and qualities of the Instructional Designers, their roles can span across the different stages of the training development life cycle.
  • Analysis: In this stage, the role of the Instructional Designer is to identify the training requirements, analyze the audience, analyze the content, and deduce whether the available content is suitable enough for developing the training for the target audience.
  • Design: In this stage, the Instructional Designer summarizes his/her finding in the Analysis stage to create the Content Outline of the training as well as the Design Document depicting the high-level and low-level designs of the training as well as the strategies, models, and theories to be followed while developing the training.
  • Development: The role of the Instructional Designer in the development phase is to actually create the storyboards as per the Content Outline and the specifications mentioned in the Design Document.
  • Implementation: In this stage, the role of the Instructional designer is to review the training developed based on his/her storyboards and ensure that whatever s/he documented and visualized are reflected accurately in the final output.
  • Evaluation: In the evaluation stage, the Instructional Designer has to measure whether the training output is able to meet the requirements s/he identified at the very beginning of training development.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Get Rid of Your Unnecessary Bulleted Lists

Bulleted lists are used to present information relating to classification of data, a step-by-step process, or the phases of a life cycle. In other words, they are used specifically to represent a list of phrases or sentences that can represent either an ordered process or some disjoint points belonging to a particular category. However, too much use of bulleted list could make your training look repetitive and dull. So, here’re a few alternatives that you can use in your trainings to replace the bulleted points which could not only reduce repetition but also help enhance the instructive value of the data.
  • One basic way to represent bulleted points is to show them using text boxes or block images with text included. This method is suitable for un-ordered lists. For example, you could simply show the features of an application by writing the features within different text boxes. In addition, you can also use arrows to connect such boxes to represent a process flow or ordered list.
  • Another alternative is to include relevant icons with the text boxes to make the content inside those boxes more instructionally sound for the learners. For examples, if a bullet list talks about different types of web browsers, then you can use the icons for those browsers with their names. 
  • Sometimes an image is sufficient to represent a bullet point if that bullet point is read out in the audio. For example, if the audio reads out the name of the browsers of a bulleted list, then you can simply show the icons on screen without any supporting content. 
  • You can also use human cut-outs to represent bulleted points in such a way that the cut-outs are directly talking with the learners. For example, to show the responsibilities of an instructional designer, you could use a human cut-out and then show bulleted points representing his/her responsibilities using think/talk bubbles around that cut-out. 
  • In some instances, you can use a single image to represent the bulleted list. For example, to represent some particular places mentioned in a bulleted list, you could show the map of the country and mark those places in that map. 
  • Another simple solution to avoid bulleted list is to present the content of the list within a table. For example, if the list defines some key terms, then you could create a table with one column representing the key terms while the second column showing their respective definitions. 
  • One very good way to represent the steps of a process flow instead of using a bulleted list is to show the process through a flow chart. For example, the various phases of the project delivery process become more meaningful if you could represent them using a flowchart or a diagram.

Monday, April 30, 2012

"Knowing" vs "Using"

Here’s another example of my favorite topic – “knowing” vs “using” information.

Refer to revised bloom's taxonomy. It talks about six levels of performance.  Level 2 maps to “knowledge”, whereas level 3 maps to the “application” of information. 

Option 1 (Know)

Match the features of following software modules with their names.

   Modules                                                   Features
·         Connect                                                     Is used to manage connectivity within a building
·         Enterprise                                                 Helps manage all POUs from a central location
·         Base                                                            Is used to manage connectivity within a building
·         Power                                                        Is required to run all PIM modules

Option 2 (Use)

Your customer has three buildings in a campus environment. One of the buildings houses a formal data center, and the other buildings simply use telecommunication rooms for patching. They want to document their connectivity throughout the data center and the enterprise from a central location. Which module will you offer them?
  • Connect
  • Enterprise
  • Base
  • Power
While option 1 helps learners know the features, option 2 helps learners understand the customer requirement and provide a solution accordingly. Besides, option 2 requires learners to know the information too. 

Which option will you use?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Use of “All of the Above”

Let’s start with an example. A review round of the assessment questions hosted on the LMS is going on.

Client: Kunal, tell me one thing…what does this option “All of the above” mean?
Kunal: Steve, we can use this option when all the options or answers are correct.
Client: Yes Kunal, I understand that. But what should I do when it is the first option is “All of the above!!!”

This happened to be a real-life scenario in one of the organizations I worked in previously.

So, why should we avoid the use of “All of the above” option in knowledge checks and assessment questions?

Let’s take another example.

Question: What is 5 + 5?
  • 10
  • 11
  • A duck
  • All of the above

Well, to start with, each option has 25% chances of being correct. But, a giveaway option like “a duck” definitely is not the correct answer. So, it automatically makes the option “All of the above” incorrect as well. This leaves two options, with each having 50% chance of being correct.

Isn’t that a bit too much to test the knowledge of the learners?

So, we should always avoid the use of the options such as “All of the above” and “None of the above”.

The big reasons for it:
  • Once hosted on the LMS, the options may be randomized. Makes you look like a fool if these options do not remain the last in the list J
  • If one of the options is a giveaway, it leaves the probability of the remaining options being correct…HIGH! That’s not how we want to test the learners, right?

Five Ways to Develop Ineffective E-Learning

We all make mistakes. I made some too. Reflecting on those mistakes has helped me correct them in the long run. 

Here are some mistakes that resulted in completely ineffective training programs:

1. Ignoring the big picture: It's important to consider the actual learning environment in which the training will be deployed. "The customer did not share the details" is the common excuse we hear. There's always an opportunity to ask, except that it has to be done at the right time, which is usually the beginning of the project.

2. Letting SME(s) guide the development: SMEs are content experts, but "we" are instructional designers. Orienting SMEs in the right way is our responsibility.

3. Implementing everything that the customer says: Sure, the customer is paying for the training. But, it's our responsibility to make it effective. Most customers are not instructional designers. Educating them in the right way helps achieve a win-win situation.

4. Leaving the design to media/construction teams to implement: Support teams are there to support us, but "we" are the owners. No matter how detailed instructions we write, we need to get involved in the entire life cycle to get our vision translated to the final product.

5. Adding complexities to make it "different": In an effort make our courses different or provide something new, we often end up making things complicated. We add elements to UI to make it look "different", and the same elements make it difficult for the learner to navigate. We add unwanted features to make the instructional strategy different, and the same features make comprehension difficult. Keep it Simple. That's the key.