It would be cool if every course we build was highly interactive with decision-making branches. But the reality is that not all elearning courses need to be that way.
Despite the complaints we hear about linear, click-and-read courses, there are plenty of times when linear is the best solution. This isn’t a defense of bad elearning (that often is linear). Instead it’s an acknowledgement that there’s a place for linear content.
Instead of injecting our personal views on what elearning should be, we need to focus on the type of course that is most appropriate for the organization’s goals. Whether the course is linear or interactive it’s merely a solution. So we need to step away from the solution, determine our objectives, and then select the best solution. If we do that, we’ll find that there are plenty of times when a linear course is preferred over a more interactive one.
Learning is Bigger than E-Learning
A couple of the benefits of elearning are consistent delivery of content and compression of time to deliver it. That means that even if the course isn’t highly interactive it can still offer some value to the organization.
For example, there are often training initiatives that require some face-to-face sessions and peer interaction. That’s something that elearning can’t always do effectively. But they can help make the face-to-face time more efficient.
- Compressed time to deliver content. Classroom sessions often have delayed start times and they can be side-tracked by other discussions. It’s often possible to compress a one hour classroom session to a 20 minute online module because there’s better control of the content and distractions.
- Learner flexibility. People are able to take the modules at their convenience and speed. So it doesn’t disrupt their work schedule or production as much.
- Consistent delivery of information. Each facilitator is different and each class has its own pacing. Many times we’ll spend 80% of the time going through 50% of the content. And then we’ll notice the time’s almost up and quickly skim through the last 50%. An elearning course can assure that at least the delivery and access to the content for each learner is consistent.
In that sense, linear elearning is an appropriate solution when blended with classroom activities. By compressing the time and ensuring consistent delivery of the content, it frees up time for more meaningful conversation and learning activities in the classroom.
I like this example from Mike Enders. He took what would have been a lecture and made a multimedia presentation. It’s something the teacher only has to create once, but is available to the student at any time. Then after viewing it, the students can come back together to discuss the content.
While, the content is linear, it’s not boring. And it’s quite effective in sharing information. The interactive part of the learning experience happens in the classroom and with any papers the students have to write.
A Simple Solution Saves Time & Money
There are many times when the main objective of a course is that the learner completes it by December 31. The organization only wants a record of completion. Sure you can sit on a soapbox and lament the decline of effective learning because of this. But you’ll most likely be an unemployed lamenter.
The reality for many organizations is that they tend to require participation in elearning courses that are not always relevant and don’t require a lot of interactive engagement. In an ideal world, we work with our clients to help them frame the content so it is relevant and adds value to the organization. But if that’s not possible, the best solution for the organization is to limit the time wasted taking irrelevant training.
A simple linear course that allows the person to get the information as fast as possible is one of the best things you can do for the organization. To make it better, you may even have the learners test out so they can avoid wasting time.
Interactive elearning courses require more resources which is a challenge because most of us are working with limited resources. So when it comes time to prioritize your projects, don’t waste your limited resources on less meaningful projects. Keep them simple and you’ll have the resources available for those courses that require more.
Not All E-Learning is E-Learning
There are some elearning courses that are focused on improving performance and changing behavior. But there are also many courses that are information pieces. They exist to promote awareness and not necessarily change behavior.
For those types of courses, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time on interactive content. The last thing you want is a decision-making interaction when all you need is a few screens of content.
Some would argue that if there’s no performance element, then it should just be a job aid or PDF. That’s a valid argument. But with the tools today, creating multimedia content doesn’t take much more time to pull together and distribute than a document.
I like this example from Hitachi. It’s a linear presentation of their social media policy. This could have been a simple website or PDF, but I think you’d agree that this is more interesting as a multimedia presentation. And they can always augment the presentation with interactions that let them practice applying the policy.
Click here to view the presentation. It looks great on the iPad, too.
Linear is just a form of navigation. What happens between the navigation can be very compelling and dynamic. It doesn’t have to be boring, bland, or full of bullet points. It just depends on how much effort you put into it.
Here are a few more examples of information modules that are mostly linear:
So there you have it. Linear is merely a form of navigation. This means what happens between the next buttons is up to you. It can be bland with a bunch of bullet points, or it can be interesting and meaningful. It just depends on what you choose to do.
Upcoming E-Learning Events
- February 3 & 4 (London). Learning Technologies. Swing by the Articulate booth and say "Hello" or check out my free session February 3 at 2:45: 5 Ways to Use Interactive Video to Engage Your Learners.
- April 26 (Houston, TX). Interactive Video Made Easy in Articulate Storyline. Learn more & register.
- April 27 (Houston, TX). Keynote presentation. Think Forward Conference.
Free E-Learning Resources
Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.
Here’s a great job board for elearning, instructional design, and training jobs
Participate in the weekly elearning challenges to sharpen your skills
Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.