Information isn’t the same as understanding. Many elearning courses are designed to just share information. In some cases, that’s fine. But, there are many elearning courses that are performance-based and in those cases we need to change how the learner thinks and acts rather than just regurgitate facts.
One evening I was working late and we had a fire drill. Everyone did what we learned to do in our safety course and we made our way to the exit. However, the exit was a sliding door that shut down during the drill.
Since the training didn’t provide information on how to open the sliding door once power was lost, we just sat there waiting for someone to come by and open the door for us. What struck me was that no one really knew what to do once we were presented with a challenge that wasn’t part of our training.
This was a reminder that there’s a difference between passing a site safety course (information) and really knowing what to do in the event of an emergency (understanding).
The safety course was typical of many elearning courses. They’re designed to share information, but don’t usually go beyond that. Information sharing doesn’t work for courses where the learner is expected to take action or complete tasks. In those cases, the elearning course needs to be designed to go beyond the facts and move towards creating new levels of understanding.
How Do I Create Understanding?
When we teach others we’re not looking for them to just know information. Instead, we want them to use information in context to make good decisions.
The challenge when creating elearning courses is knowing how to build an environment where the learner can process the information and place it in the appropriate context and through that demonstrate greater levels of understanding. This all starts with some fundamental ideas around course design.
1. Establish clear learning objectives.
For the elearning course to be successful, you need to establish clear learning objectives. This seems obvious. However, I’ve been involved in enough training programs to know that that’s not always the case.
Without clear objectives, you’ll have problems reaching your goals and you’ll probably not engage the learner. Like the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, most likely you’ll have no problems getting there.”
2. Determine what evidence proves understanding.
Once you establish the learning objectives, you need to determine how you’ll know they’ve been met. What evidence proves that the learner is able to meet the goals?
This goes beyond just creating a multiple choice quiz. What you really need to shoot for is evidence that demonstrates understanding not just how to do something but why.
3. Build the course to provide information AND create a learning experience.
Once I determine the right type of evidence to prove the learner’s understanding, I can build the experiences into my course that helps the learner get to the desired level of understanding.
I want to measure the learner’s grasp of the facts and I want to put the learner in a situation where she can use the facts and apply them to the nuances of real life decisions. This helps me see that not only does she get the information but that she is able to use the facts in an appropriate manner to make performance-based decisions.
4. Create the ability for learners to reflect on the information.
Elearning courses are good at sharing facts and information. The goal is to help the learner pull all of the information together and make good decisions. A step in the direction of creating real understanding is to help the learner reflect on the new information.
So often we share information and then move on assuming that the learner understands why the information is important. By reflecting on the information, you put the learner in a position to take abstract and disconnected facts and place them in an appropriate context. Here are some ideas on how to build reflection as part of the learning process:
- Ask questions to hook the learners and get them to think about the information in a context that is important to them.
- Have the learner’s review scenarios or case studies so that they can take the information out of the course and put it into the real world.
- Create some sort of learning journal where the learners have to think about the course’s information and write out their thoughts. This helps them personalize the information and make it more than just a bunch of facts.
5. Create a way for learners to explore.
The other day I was out walking and I saw a skateboarder practice jumping in the air with the board. In the time I observed him, he must have jumped unsuccessfully at least twenty times. What intrigued me was that each time he jumped, somewhere in his brain he was making minor adjustments to his technique that will allow him to eventually become proficient at jumping.
How does this translate to elearning? To get a learner beyond rote facts means that you have to create a place where the learner can make those “minor adjustments.” Learners need the ability to explore, to have a place of “what if’s” to see cause and effect.
- Take a cue from Google. Free up the course navigation and give the learners the ability to click around and explore like they would online or if using a search engine. Present a challenge and have them look for an answer rather than just giving them the information.
- Create scenario-based branches that allow the learner to make a choice and get feedback specific to the choice made. .
- Build an environment where the learners can modify variables to see the cause and effect of their decisions. Create interactive visual models where the learner can play around with “what if” scenarios. Here’s a demo using variables the learner can modify: interactive chart.
To create an elearning course that empowers the learner to make good decisions means that you have to create an environment where the learner gets important information and has time to reflect on its meaning and where it fits in the learner’s world.
What are some things that you do to create a course that goes beyond information-sharing?
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- Mar 20 (Orlando). Want to learn to build courses with the right look & feel? Join David Anderson at his all day workshop on Graphic Design Essentials for Non-Graphic eLearning Designers.
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- April 14 (Minneapolis). PACT Meeting: Facing Today's Instructional Design Challenges.
Free E-Learning Resources
Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.
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Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.