eLearning Tools Are Very Powerful, Use With Caution

eLearning authoring tools (for example Storyline, Lectora, Captivate, etc.,) are very powerful and offer a number of tools and features for enhancing the appearance and performance of the output. Unfortunately, many of these features, used improperly, can have the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of enhancing and speeding up learning/performance, they can make it more difficult for learners to access and learn from the material.

You may hear from non-instructional designers (perhaps your manager or director) that we should “jazz up the interface or content.” By that they mean make it more “visually appealing or attractive.” They’re typically not thinking of ID/eD/adult learning principles. Instead, they were playing with the tool, attended a demo, or saw a fancy example and think that that feature or function will work in other/all circumstances. Wrong!

Features and constructs to use sparingly, if at all:

  • Sliders, accordions, flashcards, flip cards, buttons, fiddly process diagrams, tabs, and other interactive gimmicks that hide information behind unnecessary clicks (and not part of practice)
  • Image maps, drop-downs, expanding sections
  • Purely decorative images (people, places, objects that are not directly related to the topic)
  • Overly attractive/distracting images and video lacking an instructional purpose
  • Background music behind the narration
  • Distracting games
  • Hidden content (is it a secret?)
  • Lengthy lectures (eHectoring) without worked and practice examples
  • Important text buried in images or under multiple clicks
  • Items that move unnecessarily in an attempt to hold interest while the narrator drones on

Performance Analysis and Instructional Design in Five Phases

Performance Analysis Instructional System Design Nine Events of Instruction ADDIEThe five phases below describe how we might go from determining that training is the appropriate intervention through the process of actually designing and building training materials, particularly eLearning. I plan to discuss these five phases in greater detail in additional comments, but I want to put the five phases together and in perspective, relative to one another.

1. Performance Analysis (Mager & Pipe)

The process of performance analysis informs us of the symptoms (if we don’t already know them) and more importantly the causes of a performance gap. After we know the cause then we can design appropriate interventions. Managers sometimes jump to the conclusion that more training, or refresher training, is the answer to a performance gap. The research of Mager and Pipe, and others shows us that this may not be the case. Before designing an intervention, we must look into the cause of the performance gap. The Mager and Pipe Analyzing Performance Problems model is an excellent starting point in that discovery process. In the case of training for new processes or training of newly hired associates, there won’t be a performance gap that we have to analyze. This is because we already know the performance gap. However, Performance Analysis is still the first thing we should consider.

2. Instructional System Design (Dick & Carey)

After we’ve determined that instruction is the way, or one of the ways, to close a performance gap, we map the instructional strategy by following the steps in the Dick and the Carey Systems Approach Model for Designing Instruction. The core of this model is to develop instructional goals based upon the performance goals within the context of the learners and an instructional analysis. The instructional analysis tells us what our learners have to know in order to perform the tasks we want them to perform. After determining the objectives, we develop how we’re going to assess how well learners meet the objectives (pretests, post-tests, practice, etc.,). From there we can develop and test materials in an iterative process.

3. Nine Events of Instruction (Gagné)

Robert Gagné provides us with a useful outline and organization of what should be included in a course. Here are his nine steps, or events of instruction.

  1. Get their attention. Why is this important to the learner?
  2. Objectives: What will the learner/performer gain from the instruction?
  3. Integrate with existing knowledge: Ask for recall of existing relevant knowledge.
  4. Provide content
  5. Guide learners
  6. Elicit performance: Learners respond to demonstrate knowledge.
  7. Provide feedback
  8. Assess performance
  9. Enhance retention and transfer to other contexts

4. Develop Materials (PADDIEM)

After completing the analysis and planning in the three phases above, we’re ready to put pen to paper and design our materials. We may start with a title and an outline, or just the outline and work out the title later. From the outline, we flesh out the content. We basically write a script, then a storyboard, then go to the authoring tools. We could use whatever project management (PM) methodology that makes sense. A PM process depends upon the size and scope of the project. Larger projects probably require more rigorous PM. The ADDIE model is often mentioned as a basic foundation for PM. We get PADDIEM when we add project management, the P, and maintenance, the M, to the ADDIE model. Who developed the ADDIE model? Good Question. No one seems to know.

5. Testing, Evaluation, Maintenance

Although the ADDIE (or PADDIEM) model includes implementation, evaluation and maintenance, I think these items deserve to be on the same level with the other four phases. Depending upon what we develop, we are going to have to test it at various stages and from various perspectives. We have to test publishing and implementing in whatever platform we use for that purpose. We also have to evaluate its effectiveness at changing behavior. This however, may have to wait until the eLearning is deployed. And after we have deployed our eLearning (or other intervention), it may require some maintenance. The project may have to be updated due to; the audience in the LMS, content, or technology (or all of these!).