Putting the learner inside the learning

Imagine learning how to ride a bicycle without actually being on a bike and struggling with balancing and getting the wobbling wheels to go forward. The thought seems preposterous because riding a bike involves so many things that you must feel and experience. While this is clearly the case for learning to ride a bike, it’s also true about learning most things. You have to do it to really get it. Unfortunately, most e-learning (and a lot of classroom learning, too) feels like you are thinking about things happening but not experiencing those things. And if you are no way involved, your interest and engagement (and learning) suffers.

One approach I’ve been working with is designing instruction as if the learner is part of what is happening. Actually inside the instruction. And the instruction talks directly to the learner and it’s the learner who is doing whatever is happening. I worked with a client who decided to use this approach to train retail clerks and the results are pretty spectacular. Then yesterday, I saw another example http://lrcp.tours.lhsc.on.ca/#/BeforeYourVisit/vid1. This is for cancer patients and it’s worth a look to get a feel for the visual approach and how it feels. This example uses video but it could be done without video as well.

Here are some questions you can ask to see how to put the learner inside the learning.

  • What does the learner see?
  • What is happening around her?
  • What is she doing?
  • What problems is she dealing with?
  • What common mistakes does she make?
  • What questions does she need answers to?
  • How does she get her questions answered?

Design around these questions rather than around topics. Determine what needs to be happening onscreen to make it feel like the learner is doing, not watching.

Here’s another example: http://www.worldwarfighter.com/hajikamal/. Rather than video, this example was done in comic book style. Really effective.

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Less text, more understanding

social media usersI asked the 70+ participants in a breakout session I presented last week at the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn Conference how many people thought they use too many words in the elearning they build. Guess how many raised their hands? Nearly all. The session was on visualizations and information graphics (infographics), visuals specifically used to represent, instruct, or to disseminate information in a visual form. Traditionally, visualizations have included charts, maps, or diagrams. But there are many other types of visualizations and infographics in wide use today.

They can be extremely important for learning because they have the power to do what words alone often cannot: reveal what is hidden, compact a lot of information into a small space, make the complex easier to understand, and make the obscure more observable. I showed how visualizations and information graphics can help people get the picture much faster than they can get from words. For example I showed them a website (http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/01/19/a-collection-of-social-network-stats-for-2010/) and asked gave them 3 seconds to find the answer to this question: Not including Skype, which social networking site has the most users? It was very hard to do. Then I showed them the visualization to the left (http://jess3.com/geosocial-universe) and asked the same question. The task was a lot easier. These types of visuals are often more universally understood than words. They have fewer social or language boundaries because visuals do most of the explaining.

Here are some other great examples of visualizations and infographics we could adapt to reduce the wall of words in instruction and increase understanding.

Here are three great resources to learn more:

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Cool site for visual designers (that we can learn from)

I follow the web and visual design sites on the web and this week I came across one I hadn’t seen before that can provide some visual design inspiration for e-learning developers. Dribble is a show-n-tell site for web developers where you upload “shots,” small screenshots ( up to 400 by 300 pixels ) of designs-in-progress of navigational elements, logos, typography, icons, etc., and others can view and comment. See example of an uploaded shot>>

Only problem is that it makes me long for something similar for e-learning developers. Here’s what I envision: I develop a visual theme and upload it, asking for specific advice. Is it too dark? Does it look professional? Good for the intended audience? You upload a few clips of different narrators narrating the same text and others provide an opinion on who sounds best. You upload ideas for a game design and ask how to make it move more quickly. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Should it all be anonymous? Should folks get awarded karma points for the best advice?

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