Friday, July 03, 2015

Elearning. L&D's hard to kick habit?

I was talking about elearning design with a colleague recently and we wondered briefly what constraints we had on ourselves that we ourselves imposed.

  • Scrolling seems so self-evidently the right solution to lots of text, yet lots of authoring tools are predicated on a fixed screen format of design that not simply encourages the text 'n next approach to learning design.
  • Similarly, a lot of elearning follows an eerily family format of a couple of screens of text, perhaps with a non-essential, thematically linked image or two, perhaps sprinkled with "engaging" click-to-reveal interactions then a question.
  • It's quite normal to see all sorts of audio controls on the chrome of the player, despite the fact that Windows has separate volume controls, as do most computers (on dedicated buttons), speakers and many headphones.

Now clearly, I'm creating something of a straw man here. There are lots of people (our team included) who no longer see elearning in these terms and have not problem designing solutions that are quite different.

  • It's my suspicion that the fixed screen harks back to PowerPoint, either in the design of the "rapid development" tools that mimic it (Storyline is but one example) or in a literal interpretation of scripts written in PowerPoint.
  • Audio controls seem to be an artifact of trying to create standalone "learning apps" that remind me of the sorts of CBTs put out on CD-ROM in the earliest days of my working life on versions of Windows that weren't as slick as we're accustomed to now.

These vestiges of a bygone era are by no means something that solely afflicts elearning. There are strong cognitive biases in all of us that encourage this - we enjoy the familiar and resist change consciously and unconsciously. Colleagues in IT or finance will doubtless tell similar tales of how "we've always done it this way" thinking holds back developments there. Much like the default solution to any "L&D problem" being "a course".

But go to an off the shelf provider, or indeed, some bespoke elearning design companies, and something constrained by some or all of these vestiges of a time since past will be what you get. And your learners won't thank you for it. They won't say anything. They'll just ignore you.

Microsoft invented the tablet computer, but they made it like Windows because they've always made things like Windows. People ignored it. When somebody else came along with a fresh new take, the iPad, people loved it*.

So win your learners gratitude and appreciation by trying to think differently. Think about what you have at your disposal now, not what your elearning forebears had once upon a time, and create a kick ass modern solution to your current problem.

*granted, there were other elements like the size of batteries and processors that made a better design possible, but bolted on to a modified desktop UI, the iPad would have not been the success it was with iOS aboard.