Learning Interactions: Elevate Your eLearning By Considering The Big Picture
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How Learning Interactions Help Elevate Your eLearning  

I engaged in a discussion recently about eLearning with a client/practitioner and was surprised how two well-intentioned and well-informed Instructional Designers could have such conflicting baseline views of eLearning. I was talking about the challenges of creating engaging learning interactions using rich context and real-world challenges.

My conversation partner was excited about a new tool that seamlessly incorporated questions into a Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentation. While I couldn’t even believe we were even talking about PowerPoint® she was completely engaged in having a tool that she could use to get something up and running. This chasm got in the way of having a meaningful interchange for either of us.

It brought to mind the ancient story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. You can find many versions of it online, but the gist of the story is that six blind men are asked to describe an elephant based on what they experience by feeling it. The one who feels the tail thinks an elephant is something like a rope; the one who feels a leg describes it as being like a column, etc.

The lesson of the story is that all of the men are simultaneously all wrong and all correct. One’s view is impacted significantly by the limitations of one’s experience. (If you wish to read a full version, here’s one that is not particularly authentic, but is charming in its quaint verse: Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe).

An eLearning Lesson: Focusing On The Big Picture With Learning Interactions

My mission has become to encourage eLearning designers to invest their time and ideas in creating lessons that change user performance. All of my training and experience informs me that eLearning can have the biggest impact when it is designed around the CCAF model: Meaningful Context, appropriate Challenge, relevant Actions, and instructional Feedback. That is the picture that makes the most sense from my particular experience.

For my friend, the most immediate challenge for creating eLearning is simply mastering the technical challenges to get a lesson onto the internet and running through the Learning Management System. This is reinforced by the evidence that most authoring tools’ basic functionality is optimized to do exactly what this designer was attempting: Importing existing content (usually from a .ppt file), inserting standardized questions, and then publishing a working eLearning module.

As long as we are so committed to only one part of the picture, it will be hard to make progress for anyone. So I’ve decided a new part of my mission must be on helping us all (me included) to own the full picture of the hurdles, challenges, and triumphs we encounter – not just the part of the picture that says “engaging eLearning is all we should build even though it is difficult” or just the part that says “getting anything online is worth something”.

So I want to start to really address the challenge of elevating the interactivity in eLearning modules. We should do this while still responding to the reality that the tools we have licenses for and meager development skills we have mastered on the job can seriously limit what we can build.

However, let’s not look at these as limitations, but rather as opportunities to be even more creative and impactful. It’s actually somewhat easier to create something in an environment with minimal constraints. Real expertise as a designer comes in imaging a great solution even when your options are limited.

So the approach I want to encourage for users who find themselves trapped or limited is not to demand a revolutionary change, but rather start making some small design changes and learning interactions that might create unexpected opportunities for real learning.

One of the first efforts is something I’ve been calling “First Aid For Interactions”. This approach is that ordinary run-of-the-mill online questions can evolve into learning interactions that are motivating and engaging by applying just a few very basic principles. In a couple of weeks, I’ll present an online experience that will give you a chance to explore this with me and practice applying it in your own work. I hope you’ll join me. Click here for more details on my two session online course, First Aid For eLearning: An Action Plan To Revive Your Interactive Designs.

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