Do fact checks and trivia games have a place in e-learning?

Last week I extolled the virtues of Cathy’s Moore Action Mapping™ approach (take a look at my summary or, if you have a bit more time, Cathy’s slideshow). In his workshop at Training 2010 Rob Hubbard did the same, but he briefly commented on one point in Cathy’s explanation that he’s not completely convinced by. Cathy advises to avoid fact checks and trivia games, as they don’t happen in the real world. But I’m with Rob – I think these types of activity can have a place in e-learning (or any kind of learning, for that matter).

For instance, I’ve often used a ‘myth or reality’ type of interaction (essentially a trivia game) at the beginning of a course or section. I think that a well designed activity of this kind can offer a few important benefits. For instance, it can get the learner thinking about what they do and don’t know, thereby increasing their motivation. Carefully selected trivia, which is both relevant and surprising, can pique their interest and get them wanting to know more. I guess for me it’s a way of showing them that there is something they can learn from the course rather than just telling them what it’s going to cover. (Of course, a well crafted scenario can achieve this too, but might be more appropriate slightly further into the course.) Check out this post from the Spicy Learning Blog for more about the virtues of the myth and reality interaction.

I agree with Cathy that fact checks and trivia games after the learning rarely add value, but I think they can be used to great effect to drive (rather than recap) the learning – getting the learner thinking, testing and gauging their existing knowledge, grabbing their attention and interest and so on. They can also help to embed the learning. For example, dispelling a commonly held belief as a myth can give the learner a ‘hook’ and help to make the learning stick in their memory beyond the course itself.

What do you think? Do fact checks and trivia games have a place in e-learning, or are they superfluous activities that don’t add much value?.

The secret of good design: action-mapping not information-dumping

I’ve long been a fan of Cathy Moore so was excited to find that one of the workshops at Training 2010 was focusing on putting Cathy’s excellent Action Mapping™ approach into action. Rob Hubbard, who now swears by this approach, opened the workshop by asking the group ‘what is good design?’ The key words that came up were: efficient, relevant, engaging, timely, concise and results-focused (encouragingly similar to my own thoughts about good e-learning). Action Mapping™ helps to achieve most, if not all, of these goals.

The idea is simple, and makes complete sense. One of my guiding principles of instructional design is focusing on what people need to do, not just what they need to know. For instance, when designing learning outcomes I avoid verbs like ‘describe’ or ‘understand’, and instead choose action verbs. Cathy’s technique is a great way to put this principle into practice and deliver learning content that really hits the mark.

Rather than starting with an information dump, start with a blank sheet of paper. And then work through this sequence of questions:

  1. What business goal do you want to achieve?
  2. What actions do people need to take to achieve that?
  3. What activities do people need to complete each required action? What practice activity can you design for each action?
  4. What information is absolutely necessary to allow them to complete each practice activity?

That information – and only that information – is what needs to go into your course. The challenge then is to design a thread or story to pull it all together in a way that will enable learners to easily and effectively carry out the same activities and actions in real life. This in turn will contribute to the business goal identified at the start of the process. (That was a fairly basic, paraphrased explanation of Action Mapping™. Be sure to take a look at Cathy’s slideshow for the real thing.)

So, going back to the key characteristics of good design that we brainstormed at the start of the workshop:

  • Only the most useful information makes it into the course, keeping it relevant and results-focused
  • Superfluous information is cut out or stored elsewhere, keeping it concise and efficient
  • A realistic, thought-provoking thread focuses on what people need to do, keeping it engaging

Timeliness can’t really be achieved through Action Mapping™ alone, but five out of six isn’t bad!