Better e-learning – Day 2: The right interactions at the right time

Today we’re going to take a look at the interactions in your e-learning course.

We’ll review what you’ve got, where they are (or where they should be, if there aren’t currently any interactions), and what they are focused on.

As before, we’ll break this down into four steps.

  • Take a big picture view

We’re going to start with my trusty ‘screen type index’ tool. I’ve talked about this in detail in a previous post so I’m not going to harp on about it too long here. Essentially it’s a table that allows you to review the balance and distribution of interaction in your course as it stands.

But what are you looking for when you review your screen type index? How often or where should there be an interactive screen? I asked the people on the webinar this question and got some varied responses. What I found most interesting was that some people said interactions are best placed at the end of a topic area (either to encourage reflection or to test understanding) while other people said the best place was often at the start of a topic area (to get the learner thinking).

  • Map interactions against the key learning points

Of course, there is no rule and both of these responses are valid. It’s certainly not a case of inserting an interaction every fifth screen or every seven minutes. For me, it’s about making sure that your interactions are mapped against your key learning points. (I’m talking about ‘testing’ interactions here – intellectually engaging activities – as opposed to ‘telling’ interactions.) Again, the screen type index is really useful in achieving this.

This is a slightly different variation on the screen type index: it includes not only the screen type but also the title and key message for each screen. Creating this table for your course will show you whether your interactions are focused on the most important topics. Peripheral or context-setting screens (like the second screen in the example above) probably don’t need to be interactive. But screens around key learning points are likely to benefit from ‘testing’ interactions (like the third, fourth and sixth in the example above).

Do you need to make any changes? If so, don’t panic that you need to create a new screen template: you don’t. Instead, look at the templates available to you already and find the one most suited to the content on the screen you need to tweak. It’s all about making use of what’s already in your course and adapting it so things are in the right place.

  • Change fact-checks to scenario-based questions

So far this morning we’ve mainly been reviewing the current balance and position of interactions. This was important preparation and it’s great that we can be confident your course is interactive in the right places, but now we’re going to really get stuck in. Just because there’s an interaction included for a key learning point doesn’t mean it’s the right interaction – we need to ensure it’s testing the right thing.

The example I used on the webinar was that of a customer service course, which includes a topic on making a good impression. Let’s imagine you’ve already got a quiz question on this topic, which is great because it’s a really key topic area when thinking about customer service. But let’s look at the detail.

The question asks ‘how many seconds does it take to form a first impression?’ I’m not sure this is a good question for this learning point. The chances are the learner will just guess, or randomly select one of the multiple choice options. More importantly, even if they weren’t just guessing, this really isn’t relevant back in the workplace. Your learners don’t really need to know how long they have before someone makes up their mind about them, do they? This is just a (fairly pointless) fact-check.

I challenged the people on the webinar to come up with some better alternatives to this question. Here are their suggestions:

I think these are good responses, although I have a couple of reservations. I’m not keen on free text responses as a general rule, so would always prefer to have options. But in some of the examples above, it might be quite difficult to make those options sufficiently challenging and plausible. For example, if you had a list of examples which the learner had to separate into good or bad in terms of making an impression, I suspect this would be a fairly easy activity. The introduction of an ‘arguable’ category might well go some way towards increasing the challenge.

With this in mind, I might take the interaction a step further and ask the learner about the consequences of certain things (like not knowing the job title of the person you are meeting, or failing to provide an out-of-office contact). This way, I’d be helping the learner to understand why as well as how.

  • Quick switches from tell-and-test to test-then-tell

So we’ve now got the right mix of interactions, on the right topics, with the right focus. We’ve also weeded out any unnecessary activities. That was quite a hefty job, so there’s just one more thing I want to do on Tuesday afternoon. We’re going to make some quick and easy switches that will result in questions driving the learning, not just recapping it.

Are there areas in your course where you tell the learner lots of stuff (theory, factual information and so on) before giving them something to do to check they’ve understood? If the answer is yes, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. As my webinar participants said earlier today, interactions fit well at both the start and the end of a topic – both have their place. But there are definitely benefits to putting the interaction first.

Perhaps there are some topics which the learner will have some knowledge of already – from previous training, or general work or life experience. In these cases, it might be worth putting the activity first – drawing on what the learner already knows and getting them thinking about the topic. Alternatively, if a topic is completely new to them, putting the interaction first is a great engagement tool when compared with pages of background and theory.

The test-then-tell approach also tends to result in deeper understanding and better retention. This is because it encourages intellectual engagement with the material, rather than simple memory recall. And it’s not hard to do: sometimes it’s as simple as swapping the positions of two screens.

With that, we’ve reached the end of Tuesday. Another intensive day, but a productive one – we’ve turned your course from something potentially tell-heavy and fact-based into something genuinely engaging and challenging. We’ve also made sure interactions are there for a reason, not just for the sake of it.

See you again tomorrow, when we’ll be sticking with interactions but looking at the options and feedback rather than the questions themselves.

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2 thoughts on “Better e-learning – Day 2: The right interactions at the right time

  1. Pingback: Day 3: The Goldilocks rule and good feedback | Good To Great

  2. Pingback: Five days to better e-learning: recap | Good To Great

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