Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Better elearning through the basics

So I'm catching up my blog reading when I caught up with Clark Quinn's piece titled Seven Steps to Better E-learning and I found an article that did not open up any new vistas to me, but instead recalled items that I learned on my journey as an instructional designer and have ingrained in my thinking that I have forgotten some of them. His seven points are:
  1. Meaningful skills - training should be about doing something new, not knowing new ideas
  2. Keep things lean and light - we should not try and crowbar in as much text as possible on a screen, your learners' eyes will glaze over and no meaningful skills will be transferred.
  3. Emotional engagement - don't start with the trite, when you are done you will be able to: blah, blah, blah As Clark states:

We know that learning is more effective when learners are emotionally committed. So in addition to addressing individual learning styles, we must address motivation. We should make learners see how new skills will help them actually do things, beyond whatever value others may place on these skills.

As an additional element of emotional maintenance, set expectations about what's to come. Let learners know how much time they'll be spending, and what their expectations should be about the overall experience. This helps learners maintain focus throughout the experience. If they know ahead of time there's a tough stretch ahead, for example, they're much more likely to persevere.

  1. Connected Concepts - Clark gets a little long-haired here, but basically he says we should present the new skill in the context of a larger well understood concept using multiple means for the learner to comprehend and assimilate the skill sets.
  2. Elaborated Examples - This point, in my mind, is very similar to the previous point. Clark reminds us that we should not present abstract, but should instead present real examples of the skill being used. These examples should include both good and bad examples since we all learn from our mistakes.
  3. Pragmatic practice - Up until this point we have been talking to the learner and they have been passive in their involvement. Now we need to help them learn. Again Clark captures the challenge with this issue--the need to create practice activities that walk the fine line between being challenging, but not frustrating.
  4. Refined Reflection - Clark proposes an individualized summary based on the learner's performance on the practice exercises. He acknowledges that the problem is that most elearning does not track learner progress at the practice level. He also notes the dark little secret we all carry in the back of our minds: most learning is forgotten within three days of the training session if it is not used. He argues that learners should have opportunities to practice so that the knowledge remains fresh.
I can't argue with any of these points and I think all instructional designers should take them to heart. As for me. I'm going to print his article out and keep it posted where I can grab it and refresh my mind about these obvious points again and again.

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