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!

The five moments of need: designing with the learners in mind

Earlier this month, determined not to let the tube strike stop me, I braved the crowds of Oxford Street and walked halfway across London to get to the IITT’s conference, Training 2010, and I’m very glad I did. In particular, Bob Mosher’s two seminars were well worth the walk. His keynote presentation, about designing for true blended learning, offered some real food for thought. For instance, I know we all talk about ‘point of need’, ‘just in time’ and ‘on the job’ learning, but Bob’s explanation of the five moments of need really brought this to life for me. The five moments are (roughly paraphrased):

  1. Acquiring first time knowledge
  2. Wanting to know more
  3. Remembering and applying learning
  4. Keeping up when things change
  5. Fixing things that go wrong

According to Bob, the learner lives 80% ‘below the line’ (in the bottom three moments of need), but 80% of training is delivered ‘above the line’ (in the top two) – that’s a massive misalignment. This has really stuck in my head and is definitely making me think differently about what I do and why.

What’s important for closing that gap and supporting learners in the world where they spend 80% of their time is not simply delivering short bursts of e-learning by breaking down an hour long course into bite-sized chunks, telling people they can access them as and when they have a spare few minutes and then assuming that they will.

It’s about taking the time and trouble to identify the ‘pain points’ experienced in real life, every day work and designing targeted, task-specific resources in the most useful form – whether that’s a short piece of e-learning, a job aid or something else more appropriate. This will ensure relevance and effectiveness, and will deliver real performance improvement. It will also improve the user experience: rather than being forced to take training with no immediate purpose or benefit, learners are being offered exactly what they need to know, when they need to know it. They’ll see the training as something designed for them, to help them do their jobs, rather than as something the business has to roll out in order to get a tick in the right box.

It’s also about making sure people know what those resources are and where to find them. Bob pointed out that one of the most used but least effective and efficient ways that people learn is asking their neighbour. In order to reduce that, all other learning assets need to be not only well designed but also well marketed and signposted, otherwise people won’t use them and they’ll simply languish in a dusty corner of the intranet.

Bob encouraged everyone in the audience of his seminar to think about what they would do differently as a result of the conference. I will certainly be taking the principle of the five moments of need with me into projects from now on, encouraging the clients I work with to think less about the boxes they need to tick and more about what their learners really need in their everyday working life to perform their roles effectively and efficiently.