Archive for the ‘e-learning development’ category

The power of pictures

21 June 2009


piggy bank, courtesy of RAWKU5, stock.xchng


User acces permission : diagram, courtesy of activeside under Creative Commons, Flickr


advanced pie 3, courtesy of svilen001, stock.xchng

They don’t just look pretty. They can also be a useful means of delivering extensive information to your audience in a concise format.

For example, how would you explain the GFC to your colleagues? Via a thousand words of text, or via one of these infographics:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

On the space of one page, these graphics do a good job of explaining the key concepts of a complex and convoluted situation.

Multimedia summaries

The power of pictures has been recognised in educational psychology for a long time.

For example, back in 1996, Richard Mayer and several of his colleagues from the University of California, Santa Barbara studied the effects of a multimedia summary (a sequence of annotated illustrations depicting the steps in a process) on learning how lightning is formed. [Ref]

Through a series of experiments, the researchers found that the students who read a multimedia summary on its own recalled the key explanative information and solved transfer problems as well as or better than the students who read the multimedia summary accompanied by a 600-word passage. Both groups of students performed as well as or better than the students who read the text passage on its own.

I consider these results important because, not only do they support the idea of pictures enhancing learning, but they also suggest that an infographic can achieve similar learning outcomes whether or not it is accompanied by a relatively large amount of text.

The researchers interpreted their results in terms of their “cognitive theory of multimedia learning”, which draws heavily from cognitive load theory. They proposed that lengthy verbal explanations may in fact distract the learner with unnecessary information, which adversely affects their cognitive processing and thus their learning.

In contrast, a concise infographic provides only the important information. This reduces the cognitive load, making it easier to process and to “learn”.

 Text ain’t half bad

Courtesy of raffit, stock.xchngI’ve professed my support of text in a previous blog article, so before we all abandon tedious words in favour of flashy infographics, I caution that text will always have its place – especially to explain the details.

For example, the multimedia summary studied by Mayer may have been sufficient for first-year science students, but probably not for meteorology majors. Those guys need the detail, and text is usually the most efficient way of providing it.

However, I still feel that pictures can be a useful pedagogical device for students who aspire to be experts. In particular, by using an infographic as an advance organizer or pre-reading, the instructional designer can promote a mental model of the domain.

This approach enables the student to devote their cognitive efforts to processing the initial conceptual framework, prior to following it up with more substance once a broad understanding of the main concepts is achieved.

My two cents’ worth

So, in summary, here is my reflection on the power of pictures:

• Pictures look pretty. Use them to increase engagement.

• A picture paints a thousand words. Use one to replace wads of text.

• An infographic is a concise means of delivering the key concepts to novice students.

• An infographic can provide experts-to-be with an initial conceptual framework, which can subsequently be “filled in” with further detail.

Putting it into practice

I decided to put my ideas into practice and create an infographic for my workplace.

So, using nothing more than Microsoft PowerPoint and some clipart, I created a customer-centric explanation of what we do:

Click to enlarge

I feel this picture would be a useful addition to our inductions, to explain to new recruits up-front the overall purpose of our company.

The graphic may also act as an introductory piece for our product training, placing it into context for the learner.

The graphic might even act as an attractive desk poster to reinforce the key messages on a day-to-day basis.

I’m sold, give me more!

For more smokin’ hot graphics about a whole range of topics more interesting than finance, visit 40 Useful and Creative Infographics.

If you can’t find any relevant pictures, create your own!

Walking in our customers’ shoes

16 December 2008

Sneakers, courtesy of irum, stock.xchng.Today my team undertook an interesting evaluation activity: We tested whether we could process a particular task after completing the online training that we had developed for it.

I’m glad to report that we could! While we don’t process the task day-to-day, we were still able to acquire the basic skills from the online training and apply them effectively in the “real world”.

In other words, we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and were able to walk.

I suspect that this approach is under-used in the corporate sector to evaluate e‑learning. If the developer doesn’t experience what the learner experiences, how can he or she fully appreciate the outcome?

Text ain’t half bad

23 May 2008

Fingers typing on keyboardIn a previous post, Give shovelware the shove, I discussed the scourge of shovelware.

I want to point out, however, that text is not necessarily shovelware.

While it’s true that shovelware is typically text heavy, dismissing all text-heavy courseware as “shovelware” is short-sighted. That’s just branding it guilty by association.

We all know that the written word can be informative, insightful, engaging and thought provoking. Of course, people have been learning by reading for centuries.

If we were to turn around now and say that people don’t learn via text, then we might as well throw away our books. In fact, we might as well shut down our blogs and wikis too.

My point is, text-heavy courseware isn’t inherently bad. Sure, it can be done better – but if the quality of the content is good and a bit of thought has gone into the instructional design, then it’s light years ahead of shovelware.

Don’t convert… transform!

14 May 2008

I’m sure you’ve had a colleague ask you a question that goes something like this:

We have this user guide here that we use for training – can you convert it into an online course for us?

Or perhaps more frequently:

We have these PowerPoint slides here that we use for presentations – can you convert them into an online course?

In such situations, I’m glad my colleague thinks so highly of e-learning that he or she is willing to pursue it as a mode of delivery.

However, I don’t see much point in converting a document or a slideshow into an online course. It’s simply a waste of time and effort to reinvent the wheel – sure, the new wheel looks bright and shiny, but does it offer any real advantages over the old one?

Courtesy of jellofishy, stock.xchng

In my role as an e-learning consultant, I would advise my colleague to deliver the content as a PDF instead. The learner can then download it, read it, and (hopefully) learn something from it. In other words, the PDF does the same job as the proposed online course, but significantly quicker, cheaper and easier.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking… That’s not very engaging! And I agree with you. One of the wonderful things about e-learning is its ability to support engaging learning experiences. Multimedia, interactivity and non-linearity all promote the learner from sleepy page turner to active explorer.

So whenever you source content from a document or a slideshow for an online course, don’t merely convert it… transform it. Challenge every paragraph of text, every static picture. Can it be delivered in a different format? Perhaps a game? An animation? A quiz? A puzzle? Audio? Video? Should the content be split, rearranged, reorganised? Can something be cut and something else added?

My rule of thumb is to ask myself:

What will my courseware offer that a PDF won’t?

If the answer is “plenty”, then go for it. But if the answer is “not much”, then why bother?

Give shovelware the shove

13 May 2008

I promised in my previous blog post, Learning alive!, that I would share with you some of my learnings from the recent AITD 2008 National Conference. I still intend to do that.

However, before I do, there are a few concepts that I want to discuss. The first is shovelware.

What is shovelware?

Wikipedia (10/05/08) describes “shovelware” as:

Courtesy of woodsy, stock.xchng…a derogatory computer jargon term that refers to software noted more for the quantity of what is included than for the quality or usefulness.

The metaphor implies that the creators chose the content material indiscriminately, as if with a shovel, rather than hand-picking quality works.

Shovelware in the e-learning space

One of my bugbears with rapid e-learning is that while anyone can do it, it’s rarely done well.

The typical scenario goes like this: Shell out for an authoring tool like Articulate or Lectora, cut & paste any old text from wherever you can get it, maybe add some clip art to pretty it up, then push it out as an “online course”.

Well, my friends, that’s shovelware.

Shovelware in the corporate sector

In the corporate sector, it’s all too tempting to shift our focus from instruction to production. With rapid e-learning tools we can produce many courses quickly, but you have to ask yourself why you would want to do that. Sure, you can shovel in content by the truckload and build up an impressive-looking library of courseware, but is it useful?

The key issue with shovelware is that it feeds the developer’s needs, not the learner’s. Uploading a certain number of courses to the corporate LMS may meet the developer’s KPI, but that doesn’t mean it will meet the training needs of the company’s employees.

Instead, a learning organisation will value quality over quantity — Development that is informed by training needs analysis and guided by instructional design principles, even if that means less product per unit time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of rapid e-learning and can see that tools like Articulate and Lectora are revolutionising L&D in the corporate sector. My point is it has to be done effectively. At the end of the day, if the courseware doesn’t facilitate learning, it’s just junk.