Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stories as Teaching Tools

There is power and value in stories as teaching tools. It is one of the oldest means of transferring knowledge from one generation to the next. This is the essence and power of Web-based learning. The problem is that most Web-based learning is too long.

I would contend that Web-based learning should not be longer than 10 minutes, and preferably around 5 minutes. In the corporate world, Web-based learning is being held hostage by the old one-day training seminar. Those sessions were typically one-day because the participant would have to leave his primary work environment and travel to a central learning location for the training.

With the advent of computer- and Web-based training systems the training could come to the participant and one- and two-hour training modules seemed like an acceptable time savings. Yet anyone who has had to sit through one of these knows, it can seem like an eternity.

These sessions, if properly developed, can be broken into individual, shortened units. The key lies with the learning objectives. A properly vetted course should have, or should have the ability to create, learning objectives at the page level.

It's the long forgotten role of SCORM to break down learning to the granular level so that the objects could be reused in any combination of elements. Unfortunately, like many complex concepts, its implementation was watered down to the point that its original purpose was rendered unworkable.

Stories need to be told, but they need to be told with focus. The whole story, which may require two or more hours for the telling, may be told, but tell it in granular bits. If you need to test, test in granular bits. There's no holy writ that mandates a 10-question final exam. But that's a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Writing Voiceover Scripts

A short while ago, ATD (the Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD) posted an article by Jennie Ruby, titled Voiceover Scripts that Engage Learners. Jennie's main point is that most voiceover scripts, what we call narration, for eLearning is too long, too boring, and it turns off the student. Our attention span is short and most eLearning pages consist of a static screen. The solution is to factor both proportionality and conversational tone into the development of voice-over narration:


Basically, don't spend a lot of time voicing over a static screen. She suggests the amount of time spent on the screen may differ based on the content. A software demonstration should not linger on a static screen for more than maybe seven seconds, but compliance training can have more extensive voiceover descriptions even if the learner doesn't like it.

Consider aiming to have something move on the screen, illustrate the point, or change in some way about every two sentences. You can achieve the right proportions by either adding visual elements or shortening the voiceover script.


The narration should be short using plain-language and active voice. This is where I think we run into trouble relying on subject matter experts. They know their topic well, but are accustomed to talking with like-minded, experienced co-workers. We can try to write "plainly" but when they review it, they edit the narration as if they are writing to an experienced co-worker. We have to learn to be willing to pushback to get them to make the writing more conversational. I recommend reading the whole thing.