Prometheus Training, LLC

Potholes on the Road to Rapid Elearning (part 2)

Rapid eLearning development can empower your organization to create powerful, customized online learning – if you avoid some common instructional design pitfalls. Part 1 of this article talked about how to avoid three common “potholes” on the road to Rapid Elearning: Unprofessional Look and Feel, Missing Content and Indigestible Content. Now it’s time to consider how to avoid three more, all-too-familiar Rapid Elearning missteps:

  • No sense of direction
  • Interactivity gone wild
  • Irritating tests (aka Quiz Hell)

No sense of direction

Before you get into your car to run an errand, you probably want to know where you are going, what the most efficient route is, and perhaps what alternative routes are available in case of a traffic jam. En route, you expect to find easy-to-understand highway signs and well-marked off-ramps.

Taking an eLearning course is not that different. Before you can comfortably start learning, you need to understand what you are going to learn and why. You want to know what options are available in the course to get you to your destination. And you depend on the existence of clear and consistent navigational signposts to get you through your journey successfully.

Sometimes in the heat of their passion over content, rapid eLearning creators forget to build in a course infrastructure that provides learners with this sense of direction. Building in some or all of these takes a little time, but pays off in fewer learners who “lose their way” or drop out:

  • Clear objectives that describe what the learner will get out of the course
  • Course maps that explain how the course is laid out
  • A menu or other type of organizing structure that shows how different elements of the course material relate to one another
  • Transitional elements that explain how one chunk of content relates to the next
  • Signposts that tell the learner where they are in the course, how far they have traveled and how much of their journey still remains
  • Consistent and clearly-communicated instructions for navigating from one screen to the next
  • Some kind of do-over mechanism, allowing learners to revisit screens they had previously visited
  • A way to get assistance if the learner gets lost or has a problem

Interactivity gone wild

When laser printers first hit the market, every user became a de facto “graphic designer.” And every document seemed to contain at least 6 fonts!

Today’s Rapid Elearning development tools are similarly packaged with lots of templates, widgets, applets and similar toys that make it easy to embed interactivity into courseware. The challenge is to resist the temptation to overuse and abuse these items.

Please don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe in using interactivity to get learners engaged, provide practice and feedback, and all those good things. My point is that interactivity needs to have a purpose -- a learning-related purpose. Otherwise, just like all those laser fonts, it can get annoying.

Irritating tests (aka quiz hell)

It seems like every e-learner has a story about getting stuck in “quiz hell.” There are quizzes that seemingly have no relation to the course content. There are quizzes that must be completed in order to get credit, but won’t close. There are the ever-popular quizzes that go on and on, with no hint as to how many questions there are or how you are doing. My personal favorite is the quiz that forces you through multiple permutations of pointless guesswork (see example below).

Quiz Sample

Quizzes are an important tool for reinforcing learning and providing corrective feedback. But if you want your tests to be more reminiscent of Quiz Heaven than Quiz Hell, try to design by the Golden Rule: Test Others As Thou Woudst Be Tested Thyself:

  • Play straight with your learners. If it’s on the test, make sure it was covered thoroughly in the course content.
  • Don’t be power-mad. Don’t force learners to complete every question or get every answer correct before they can quit out of a quiz. (And if you do force them, have a good reason for it. Someday you may meet one of those learners in a dark alley. Have a really, really good excuse handy!)
  • Limit the frustration factor. Sometimes it makes sense to let learners try more than one answer on a quiz. But watch out for question types where there are many possible permutations of wrongness (like the one illustrated above). If your content demands this type of question, then consider giving the learner an opt-out mechanism by adding a “show the right answer” button on the screen.
  • Allow a do-over. If possible, avoid forcing learners to repeat an entire course in order to retake a quiz. Instead, if they “fail” the first test, it’s preferable to give targeted feedback about what they got wrong, and then give learners the option either to revisit the course content or take a second version of the test.
  • And finally, match your test to your learning objectives. The point is to prove that they learned what they were supposed to have learned in your course, right?

Bottom line

Rapid Elearning development tools can be an express route to online learning – or a shortcut to nowhere. By following the principles of solid instructional design, you can avoid the common pitfalls and keep your Rapid eElearning courseware on-track.

About the author

Helene Geiger is CEO of Prometheus Training, LLC.

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