Tips for Making Courses That Count

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While eLearning is no longer in its infancy, the broad conversations and debates about best tools, best practices, and best approaches reveal unanswered questions about the best ways to develop eLearning. Too often, organizations take the shotgun approach with both content and design: The more, the better! But more content and design doesn’t necessarily mean more learning. Instructional designers need clear, actionable techniques that maximize learner engagement and minimize wasted development time on frills that do not support improved outcomes.

Participants in this session will learn tips for effective eLearning design based on feedback from customers and best practices from the more than 260 content developers in the OpenSesame marketplace. OpenSesame is working to synthesize this information into a set of design guidelines to support improved content worldwide. For example, course developer ej4 uses video in both traditional and mobile courses to help clients achieve compliance and sales goals. You’ll examine their guidelines for designing for mobile and using video, with examples of courses that worked for ej4’s clients. In another example, you’ll explore Art Kohn’s view on the cognitive science behind using interaction strategically in video.

In this session, you will learn:
Strategies for simplifying eLearning content
How to divide eLearning content into manageable “chunks”
How to incorporate media elements to keep online learners’ attention

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  • Hi, my name is Kelly Meeker and I’m the community manager at OpenSesame, the world’s elearning marketplace. As the community manager, I have met many of you at DevLearn, on Twitter and through our blog. Today we’re going to talk about the lessons learned through our community over the past few years.To give you a little background on OpenSesame, we’re a marketplace for online learning, sort of like Amazon.com or ebay – but for people buying and selling courses. Over the last few years, OpenSesame has developed a catalog of more than 21,000 online learning courses – from more than 270 different content developers. Courses range from short video clips to multi-hour SCORM courses covering anything from healthcare and compliance to leadership and safety. As we’ve developed a buyer community alongside our group of sellers, we’ve quickly learned what works for our customers and what keeps buyers coming back for more. Today we’re going to share some of the instructional design best practices that we’ve learned from talking with customers about courses for sale in the marketplace. I will share some of my insights on what sparks learners’ interests in order to help you make your courses more engaging, more memorable, and most of all, more effective.Please feel free to take advantage of the chat window within the Adobe connect application to share questions or to discuss on Twitter using the hashtag #IDtips. Tammy Olson from the elearning guild will be moderating the chat window and providing technical support throughout the event.
  • We’ve broken our tips into three categories, which form our learning objectives for today’s session.First, we will talk about how to structure the information in your courses in order to lower the learner “spaceout” factor. Our objective will be helping you create courses structured into chunks that will be easier for learners to absorb, share and apply.Second, we’ll talk about several ways to use multimedia content to challenge and engage your learners.Finally, we’ll talk about how to communicate the information in your courses to help your learners relate their new skills to their worklife. Our objective will be helping you connect your courses more closely to achieving desired business outcomes.
  • Let’s get started with part 1, Chunks and spaces. Our focus here is helping you remember the context within which most of your learners are working – because that’s the context in which they’ll be learning.
  • In 2004, a scientist named Gloria Mark completed a study of human-technology interaction. She found that each worker went an average of 11 minutes on any given task before being interrupted by a coworker, email, IM or other demand for their attention. That means if some of you haven’t heard a beep, chime or ring tone since this presentation started, you probably will in the next couple of minutes. Think about how you experience your work day – you probably have dual monitors on your desk, with Powerpoint, Articulate, Outlook, Firefox, Gchat and Facebook all open, and you’re responding to emails the whole time you’re working on storyboards, designing layouts or writing copy. What you experience is probably what all your learners are experiencing, too.
  • In this context, the course you’re designing might be your baby – and it may be essential information for your company’s future – but to the average learner, the course is just one more thing they have to fit into their frantic, interrupted, complicated day.
  • And even if your learner has more than 11 minutes to spare, their attention span isn’t likely to forgive you if take much longer than that to make a point.
  • As a result, we’re hearing from customer after customer that courses better be short. This isn’t to suggest that your whole course has to be 11 minutes long – of course there are some topics that will require more time – but think about how you’re chunking your content. One of the key complaints we hear from customers is when a course has set pieces that are too long. You need to structure the information in the course so that each piece can be digested, if you will, in one 11 minute sitting. You can separate skills or information into smaller experiences that can be explored within the timeframe that a learner is likely to have open to them. This will make your course more approachable and useful. And you should set this expectation right up front as you welcome learners to your course. Let them know how it’s structured, so they can plan how they will experience it and plan it into their day.
  • Your course navigation can also support this “chunkiness”. Giving your learner a basic sense of where they are, and where that chunk fits into the overall learning path, will help them feel empowered to direct their learning experience.We see a fair number of courses that don’t have navigation at all – making it difficult for learners to pause in the middle, and/or to navigate to a specific piece of information in the course.Remember that some learners may want to come back to a course after they’ve completed it to revisit some piece of information. If they have to click through from the beginning they’re going to click through and lose interestOther courses lock down the navigation, forcing learners to view every single slide, in the order determined by the course author. Of course, for some compliance courses that might be a necessary step, but in other cases, you leave grown adult professionals feeling like like little kids. Give your learners opportunities to interact with information in the manner that works for them. If they’re directing the learning experience, they’re naturally more engaged and empowered.
  • This may seem obvious, but don’t skip the learning objectives. One of our customers’ favorite catalogs is the Convergence Training collection of safety courses. They do a great job starting every course with an overview of what you will learn in the course. This helps set expectations from all parties.
  • This is another great course in the catalog, by Halcyon Educational Technology. They do a great job spelling out specific objectives that help learners understand the roadmap for a course and, of course, what’s in it for them. The best learning objectives are specific and measurable and relate to actual outcomes for the learner – as in, it’s much more interesting and effective to say, you’ll “learn to use microsoft office to create graphic reports” than to say “get familiar with microsoft office”.
  • The next tip builds on the concept of chunky learning, and encourages you to build in some spaces between the chunks. Many learning experiences are designed as one time experiences – a thorough exposure to new information.http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/the_science_of_interruptions.php
  • Whether it’s an online course or an in person lecture, cramming a lot of information into one sitting is overwhelming. Participants are limited by the stress of external factors and they’re likely to forget everything you told them as soon as they get up from their computers.
  • Since we were kids in elementary school learning vocab words withflashcards, we’ve known that repetition supports learning. Research shows, however, that spaced repetition improves retention. So don’t just present information once - design learning experiences that encourage learners to revisit the new information they’ve learned over time.The lag time between repetitions is less important than encouraging the learner to examine another topic and then revisit the information previously discussed. This “spaced learning” – forcing learners to reprocess information – increases retention and helps reinforce the new skills you’re trying to share. As you designan online course, think about how learners are likely to interact with it. Can you create a spaced learning program where they take a chunk each day for several days? Are there additional resources you can use – like an automatic email delivered to them with more information one week after they complete the first chunk? Can you create chunky, spaced learning that fits in to the flow of the worker’s day? This is an area where there’s a lot of room for creativity, and the central lesson is that learning is not a one time event. When you design a course, think of it as a process you’re undertaking in partnership with the learner, rather than a one time event. Before we move on, any questions?
  • Our second section will focus on choosing and using the best multi-media content for your course without venturing into the risky territory of clickyclicky bling bling, as Kineo instructional designer Cammy Bean calls it. I’d like to take a moment here to start our first poll to help me learn a little more about the different media you may already be using in your online training.Tammy, can you bring in the first poll?
  • I want to set the stage by telling you a little bit about some of the popular courses on OpenSesameOne of the most popular courses we have is a choose-your-own-adventure sort of course that uses multiple choice to challenge the learner to pick a direction and then explore the consequences. They accomplish this without animations, Flash or anything fancy – just good story telling. Another great course encourages you to rack up enough points to pass by guiding a character through a series of challenges – this one combines short animations with multiple choice questions. Yet another popular course introduces sexual harassment policies by printing salacious instant message exchanges between a fictional boss and employee – and then giving you the opportunity to play “HR” and write an email to the involved parties. These are just text with still photos– but engaging the learner in decision making, evaluation and analysis through out the experience. I think a lot of instructional designers feel limited when developing online training because they’re not great graphic designers or don’t have partnership from great media developers. Sure, things should look clean and attractive on the screen, but great courses aren’t build on the backs of fancy Flash animations – they rely on good communication and good story telling. Let’s talk about the different ways you can tell stories in your courses.
  • First, let’s start with the basics. A course really is a story. You’re leading a learner through an experience. And just like Hollywood movies start with a story board, we hear from many of our successful instructional designers that an old-fashioned storyboard sketch will help you understand and focus on how a learner experiences a course before actually beginning design. If you’re working with customers or internal stakeholders, drawing a storyboard is a great way to achieve agreement on the basic outline of a course before you’ve invested too much work. The storyboard will help you clarify your intentions for the course, and what order you’ll organize different components into.It will also help you organize branching scenarios or experiment with different models for interactions. Each chunk of your course should have a story arc - a beginning, middle and end – and ideally leave your learner interested in what comes next. This also helps prevent the “knowledge dump” type of course, as you’ll have a better picture of how your learner will encounter new information and make sure you can space it out appropriately.
  • It also helps if you tell a story with faces. From each and every customer, the number 1 complaint we hear is that courses are too filled with text. Many courses aren’t courses, they’re textbooksThey have a narrator read the slide verbatimThey might lock navigation so that learners need to sit through the narrator reading the slide verbatim They rely exclusively on bullets of text to communicate the informationSo don’t do what I just did here! Don’t insult learners’ intelligence with an “elearning course” that’s little more than a document broken into different screens. And please don’t commit the cardinal sin of locking the navigation so that a learner can’t proceed until the narrator read the entire slide. People can read faster than your narrator can speak!In general, delivering the same information through visual content and audio is redundant and boring.Think about how you can deliver different information through the different media in your course – creating a more interesting experience. The visual and the audio should complement one another, not repeat one another. And story telling is best done with a couple of humans involved. Most of all, just because you’re an elearning developer, doesn’t mean every problem needs to be solved with an elearning course. Sometimes people would just rather read a short email or memo documenting a simple policy change.
  • Sonic Performance Support is an elearning development company that specializes in courses introducing desktop software. They excel in putting a human touch into what can be extremely dry content! Let’s take a look at their approach to making technical content more engaging. Tammy can you start the video?2 minute video
  • Before we talk a little bit about video, I’d love to hear if any of you use a lot of video in your course development now. Tammy, can you bring in the second poll? As we’ve seen in Sonic’s tip, video is a great opportunity to bring in a more personal touch to your course content. Ej4 is another popular seller in the OpenSesame marketplace. They use a unique blend of video, graphics and interactive exercises to cover complex topics simply and efficiently.They take the approach that when presenting dry information, video can put a “human face” on your content. The ability to watch and relate to a person is a powerful engager in contrast to text on the screen. Let’s take a look at how ej4 uses video to jazz up their content. Tammy, can you bring in the second video?
  • If you have a lot of information to present, consider having a video of a person explaining, rather than a block of text. Why? According to Nielsen, the average television consumption in America per individual in 2010: 34 hours / weekBut what it means is that people are familiar and comfortable with paying attention to video.
  • If you’re showing a social or interpersonal skill, video can help your learner connect with examples. As you design the flow of your learning experience, consider using simple video clips in your course to increase audience engagement and emotional response by asking SMEs to explain key points or demonstrate important skills. Video clips are extremely useful for training people in sales, marketing, customer service or conmunications. People react emotionally to seeing other people – and as we’ll discuss soon, that emotional reaction will help them remember the content better. And I can tell you from experience that when given a choice between texty courses and courses that use video clips, our customers prefer the video clip based courses every time.
  • I know what you’re probably thinking – that video can be really expensive and complicated to make.But you do have some great “upsides”, From a technical perspective, video is a simple way to create content that can work on multiple screens and in multiple contexts. It also has a high re-usability factor In some cases, we’ve also seen really simple iphone-shot videos incorporated in courses as either a SME interview, product demo or just simply sharing information. One of the most-viewed courses on OpenSesame is a beginning twitter for professionals course that I shot with a combination of quicktime and my macbook webcam. I can assure you it wasn’t very sophisticated, but it’s been very successful for us.You can also effectively use video by curating and sharing video resources that exist throughout the web. Out of hundreds of millions of videos on YouTube, there’s probably something that will help you tell your story – even if it’s just something showing what not to do.
  • Vivid Learning Systems is another popular seller in the OpenSesame marketplace. In contrast with ej4 and Sonic, Vivid uses more still images to accompany learning content. The use of images is proven to improve learning outcomes – but it’s important to choose images that resonate with your learners.
  • For example, when selecting images for your courses, make sure the people in the pictures look like your audience.We’ve heard from customers in the construction industry that they just can’t use courses with imagery from an office setting. Viewers are distracted when they can’t relate to the people in the images they’re seeing alongside information they are supposed to relate to their every day lives.If you’re doing a lesson for nurses, make sure the people in the photos are wearing scrubs and not outdated uniforms – or whatever is appropriate for your workplace! Similarly, if the lesson is on diversity and inclusion, make sure your photographs depict diverse groups of people. Your audience needs to be able to see themselves in the context that you’re creating to create that emotional connection.
  • Part two of Vivid’s great suggestions on using images in your courses is making sure thatyour photos and graphics are factually accurate and practice what you preach. For example: if your lesson is about using power tools safely, make sure that all of your photos show people working safely! It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to make mistakes, especially when you’re not the Subject matter expert on a specific task. Take an extra few minutes to check over your images, with your SME if necessary, to make sure you don’t create a distraction within your content.If the image isn’t relatable or there’s a technical error, you’ve done worse than bored the learner – you’ve lost their trust and ruined your credibility as a source of information.
  • I used to live in Alaska and work for the City of Anchorage as a program coordinator. This week on Facebook people were sharing this flyer like crazy.Now, the Muni Safety office no doubt made this flyer with the very best of intentions, but you know why this went Arctic-viral? People were complaining That Penguins live in the Antarctic. We live in the Arctic. Couldn’t they find a better mascot?You really want to make sure that your images reinforce your messaging and build trust with the learner.This is exactly why images matter.
  • Now, after singing the praises of video and images and decrying the danger of using just text, one big caveat – you want the learner’s attention focused in one place at one time, and you want them to be able to move forward when they feel they have learned something. Just because your authoring tool supports fancy animations doesn’t mean that that is useful – if it keeps your learner trapped when they’re ready to move on, or distracts them from listening to a narration that is delivering key context – it’s not impressing anyone, it’s just confusing.
  • Let’s talk a little about mobile learning, as that’s all the rage right now. In addition to the 11 minute limitation, we find of course that many learners are on the go – and they need information now.While we do hear people talking about it every day, it’s still really early out there for mobile learning. We’re still in an experimental phase, and while many workers do own smartphones, there are still plenty of employees who are less tech savvy and struggle with mobile technology. As a result many companies are struggling with delivering the same content multi-modally, and figuring out how to organize all of the content. This is a struggle and I would very much encourage you to start incrementally with working with mobile with just some small projects to test and see what works.
  • When is mobile the right solution for your team? Let’s think about the context in which most learners are accessing mobile content. They’re in the flow of work and they need help or reference material. They want to review or refresh their memories or correct a mistake. They need to get exactly the information they need without being trapped in a specific process or workflow. This is a time where chunking is really essential – you want people to be able to find the exact snippet of information that will support their performance in that minute.Mobile technology is a great way to create job aids and performance support that will accompany a learner throughout their work.
  • At this point, before deciding to develop content specifically for mobile, take a moment to make sure that it makes sense for your audience right now. Is your audience tech savvy? Are they truly a mobile audience? Are they comfortable with self-directed exploration of information? You want to make sure the mobile content form fits their needs and abilities at this stage. Sales and product specific information is a great example of content that excels in a mobile context. Sales people and technicians need to have this information at their fingertips – and organizing that information for a mobile audience can help them get what they need, fast.
  • Completion rates are higher if you have the ability to push content to your learners. So if your company owns the device or otherwise has the ability to push content to the device that will mean you can be assured it will get in your learner’s hands. Literally.Second, it’s better to create content designed for mobile devices rather than just redeploying content you made for a desktop environment. Not only the visual presentation of the information matters – but the chunking and organization of information should be even more succinct and efficient for the mobile environment.
  • Finally, a few tips and tricks.     Needless to say, phone and tablet screens are small. Design for big, poky fingers and people who might use reading glasses. No small print, no tiny buttons, and make sure learners can always access the menu.This has to be simple and really intuitive to use. The good news is that the thousands of successful apps you already use may provide great ideas for you to work from if you’re exploring the mobile environment.
  • Our final group of tips will focus on getting you closer to your business partners and helping elearning developers and instructional designers move at the “speed of business”.
  • Art Kohn is a seller on OpenSesame and also a neuroscientist. I just noticed the other day that he’s giving a presentation in this online forum as well! Art is an expert on how the way that the brain works should influence the way you create training experiences. My favorite piece of insight from Art is that the levels of brain processing applied to any piece of information will affect the quality and strength of that memory. This means that if you simply tell a person something, they will remember it in a superficial and fleeting way. But if you ask them to analyze, evaluate or respond emotionally – they will have to process the information, and thus will encode it more deeply in their brain. This facilitates retrieval of this information.This is related to but distinct from the concept of spacing out the learning. The idea here is that you need to get the learner to do more than just hear or read the information that you’re sharing. They need to process it in additional ways in order to make it their own.
  • When you’re creating courses, adding additional dimensions that provoke an emotional response will make it easier for your learners to hear, respond and retain. The example I shared earlier of the course that printed a fictional but salaciousemail exchange between two employees is a great example. Granted, the somewhat salacious details feel a little bit like you’re getting involved in a soap opera! But because you have to make a judgment about the information you’re being presented, it’s more likely you’ll create a deeper connection with the content and be able to reproduce that analytical skill in future.Think about features and benefits. When working with salespeople, sales experts often focus on the difference between describing the features of a product (describing the product itself) and describing the product’s benefits (the ways it will change the customer’s life). As you present information in your course’s learning objectives, make sure you’re articulating the information in a way that helps learners connect the information to their every day life. This means using examples, scenarios, and situations that are relatable and that challenge the learner to participate in the course. You need to create a scenario that your learner can place themselves into. Thinking about features and benefits does more than give you another way to to address the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) question – it is a test you should apply to your course, at each concept or skill.
  • Finally, let’s talk about thinking lean. The lean startup methodology is a concept for running startup and technology businesses that inspires founders to be more responsive to their customers needs by moving the “product launch” earlier in the product cycle.The concept here is that the best way to design your technology is not in a vacuum – it’s in connection with your actual customers, as they use your product. In a 2010 book, Strategic Speed: Mobilize People, Accelerate Execution, Jocelyn Davis, Edwin Boswell and Henry Freshette outline an approach to using “lean’ for learning. In lean learning, any course or content is never precisely a finished product – it’s consistently, improved, built onto and edited to reflect changing times and evolving feedback from customers. We hear a lot of demand for off-the-shelf courses because customers feel that the development time for custom content is out of sync with the speed at which they need to deliver performance support to their employees.Of course I don’t want to encourage you to compete with our off-the-shelf providers – I just want to encourage you to move fast. In today’s business world, people don’t have 45 or 60 days to wait to respond to a need. Frankly, they’re lucky if they have a week.
  • The more that you deliver content to your learners, the more you’ll learn about what works, what they like and what they need.So “ship early and often” as Mark Zuckerberg says.
  • Tips for Making Courses That Count

    1. 1. Tips for Making Courses That Count Kelly Meeker
    2. 2. Sessionoverview Session Overview The marketplace for online corporate training Session Hashtag: #IDtips
    3. 3. Sessionobjectives Break it down. Break content into logical, spaced chunks. Mix it up. Incorporate multimedia elements to keep learners’ attention. Keep it real. Focus courses on supporting desired performance outcomes.
    4. 4. Break itDown Chunks & Spaces
    5. 5. Break itDown 11 Minute Chunks inpractice “Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What’s more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web page or working on a spreadsheet.” - From Meet the Life Hackers
    6. 6. Break itDown The 11 Minute Rule inpractice 11 minutes Most learners have only 11 minutes between interruptions
    7. 7. Break itDown The 11 Minute Rule inpractice And even if they have longer, their attention spans are unlikely to last longer.
    8. 8. Break itDown The 11 Minute Ruledesigntip Subdivide information into short “chunks”
    9. 9. Break itDown Making the Most of Navigation You are here
    10. 10. Break itDown Don’t Skip the Objectives
    11. 11. Break itDown Make Them Measurable
    12. 12. Break itDown Spaced Learningdesigntip 4-hour span Crash course lecture
    13. 13. Break itDown Spaced Learningdesigntip SLEEP HUNGER STRESS MOOD 4-hour span Crash course lecture
    14. 14. Break itDown Spaced Learningdesigntip 1 week span Four one-hour packages of instruction
    15. 15. Mix itUp Mix It Up
    16. 16. Mix itUp Storytelling
    17. 17. Mix it Up Storyboards Are Essential design tip Image credit:Mike Sansone on Flickr
    18. 18. Mix itUp Create the Unexpecteddesigntip • Many courses aren’t courses, they’re textbooks • They have a narrator read the slide verbatim • They might lock navigation so that learners need to sit through the narrator reading the slide verbatim • They rely exclusively on bullets of text to communicate the information See what I did there?
    19. 19. Mix itUpdesigntip Adding the Human Touch Tip #9: Sonic Performance Support
    20. 20. Mix itUp ej4 on Using Video TipVideo is an opportunity. #: Using Video
    21. 21. Mix itUp Meet the TV Generation Average television consumption in America per individual in 2010: 34 hours / week (Nielsen Company)
    22. 22. Mix itUp When is video right? Applications: social interaction: Onboarding Safety HR Policies Compliance Product knowledge Customer service Process knowledge Sales Corporate communications
    23. 23. Mix itUp Beg, Borrow or Stealdesigntip Produce Curate Make it yourself! Find something that works! Challenges: Challenges: Resources Availability Logistics Applicability Expense
    24. 24. Mix itUpdesigntip Tip #10: for Using Images Tips Vivid Learning
    25. 25. Mix itUp Choosing Imagesdesigntip
    26. 26. Mix itUp Choosing Imagesdesigntip
    27. 27. Mix itUp Penguins Don’t Wear Shoesdesigntip
    28. 28. Mix itUp Don’t Use Everything At Oncedesigntip
    29. 29. Mix itUp Mobile Learning Life Cycledesigntip Early adopter phase Primarily experimental pilot projects Costs are high Big in select verticals
    30. 30. Mix itUp Choosing Mobiledesigntip Trying to Things remember change Something Wanting to goes wrong learn more Learning for the first time
    31. 31. Mix itUp Why mobile?designtip “Gotta” make business sense. The content must make/save the learner/company money or it is not worth pushing to mobile. Sales and product specific content is the best for mobile.
    32. 32. Mix itUp How to use mobile?designtip “Gotta be…” Fast If content is pushed to the device it has a higher chance of being completed. Customized Could just be a logo
    33. 33. Mix itUp Mobile Tips & Tricksdesigntip Keep the interface simple. If you have to tell them how to use it, it is too hard. It is a SMALL screen - develop backwards.
    34. 34. Keep itReal Focus on Performance Outcomes
    35. 35. Keep itReal Promoting Retentiondesigntip
    36. 36. Keep itReal Engage Emotiondesigntip
    37. 37. Keep itReal Think Leandesigntip Innovate Iterate Improve Repeat
    38. 38. Keep itReal Think Leandesigntip Ship early, ship often
    39. 39. Questions? Kelly Meeker @OpenSesame Kelly.meeker@opensesame.com 503-808-1268 ext. 314The marketplace for online corporate training

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