“Busy Work” In eLearning: Doing eLearning Activities For The Sake Of Doing Activities
Recently I had a project for which I was creating a CBT module from an approved storyboard. This module was a classic page-turner style eLearning experience. As you can imagine, it was boring, dry, and dull. Somewhere between slide after slide of monotonous text, I was asked to create a drag-n-drop activity.
(Some background information: The target audience were adults, age 21+, mixed in computer literacy, and working remotely.)
While initially I was excited to do something more than just walls of text and a next button, I began to realize that this activity was a terrible choice. The user needed to drag a picture (i.e. a phone, or an envelope to represent mail) to its corresponding word. For example, the user will need to drag the picture of a phone to the word phone.
After I built the activity, I began to question the purpose of it. I thought to myself:
Why did the designer of the storyboard want this activity?
Is this appropriate for the target audience?
Does it actually help the learner understand the content and learning objectives?
After some thought, I found the activity to be insulting to the target audience, and, more importantly, it represented a failed attempt to bring some much-needed interactivity to the module.
The Power Of Interaction
I am sure we have all sat through a module that was boring and dull, with minimal attempts at creating interactivity. In my opinion, eLearning activities and overall “interactiveness” are the backbone to great eLearning. From simple (well, maybe not too simple) drag-n-drops to complex gamified learning experiences, we can create powerful media that helps fill gaps identified during a needs analysis – along with keeping the learners engaged and actively learning.
Interaction helps hold the learner accountable and actively participating in the overall experience. As we move away from the classic page-turning style modules, we need to ensure that activities are not haphazardly placed throughout the modules as a means to create a sense of interaction. This can be confusing and frustrating to participants.
Richard Mayer’s Coherence Principle states “people learn better when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded rather than included” (Mayer 2001). I believe this principle can be applied to the use of interactive activities within eLearning development. If the activities of the interaction are not designed with the learning objectives in mind, they ultimately are likely to become virtual “busy work”. Therefore to prevent the experience from being pointless or irrelevant the activity would need to be reworked to better fit the learning objectives. This holds especially true when designing materials for adults. The last thing an eLearning module should do is make the learner feel like they are wasting their time with gimmicky activities and interactions. Understanding your target audience helps the designer create an appropriate and effective module.
Any eLearning activities that are incorporated in a module should have a positive impact on the overall learning experience. If the user remembers the activity but not the lesson/objectives, can you count that learning experience as effective?
3 Ways To Create Powerful eLearning Activities
1. Create/Understand The Needs Analysis.
The purpose of a Needs Analysis is to fully understand the problem (the need), the target audience, and the medium in which they will conduct their learning. The results of the Needs Analysis will help drive the creating of learning objectives/goals; and ultimately the activities, and overall flow and feel of the module. In my situation exampled above, I am not sure if the designer of the storyboard really understood how to make the activity appropriate for the target audience.
2. Relate eLearning Activities To The Learning Objectives.
Once the needs analysis is fully understood, you can create learning objectives to help fill the gaps identified during the needs analysis. When designing the course and creating activities and interactions, ask yourself these questions:
- How will this activity support the learner’s experience?
- If the activity did not exist, can the learner still meet the learning objectives for the course?
- Is the activity appropriate for the target audience?
When designing the activities for a module, try to consider what the goals of the specific activity are. What should the user take away after completing the activity? A new skill set? New knowledge? Also consider how it will challenge the user to meet the learning objective.
3. Use A Focus Group.
If the project and timeline allows for the use of a focus group to test activities, I recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity. Even if it’s just a few members of the target audience – this will help vet the activity. This session could potentially exhibit people’s personal preferences and help determine if the activity encourages the user to meet the learning objective. Couple the activity with a questionnaire and you can acquire great feedback that will ensure the activities are successful.
While interaction is vital to the design of eLearning, make sure that you understand how your activity will help your learner. If you are creating a course and you think you need more interactions, take a step back and review your work so far. Perhaps the overall design and flow needs to be re-evaluated.
- R. Mayer. (2001). Multimedia Learning. Cambridge Press.