Advanced eLearning Design, Part 1

(Preface: These are notes from attending ASTD’s Advanced eLearning Design Certificate Course, taught by Julie Dirksen. Her book, “Design for how People Learn,” is outstanding, if you haven’t read it yet, go to amazon and take a look at it. When I can figure out how, I’ll add link here, but WordPress is being petulant tonight.)

First, and this makes sense, good eLearning design needs to be founded on sound learning principles. Training isn’t about knowing, it is about doing. We know that content knowledge doesn’t equate to better performance. Generally, our end goal for training is for the learner to demonstrate the learning through behavioral change.

ISD is based on process models. Especially when it comes to eLearning, the traditional processes aren’t working. They don’t reflect the real world. They need to be iterative and flexible to take advantage of interactive media. So we need to use a new mental model when it comes to eLearning design.

Instructional Interactivity Design Model

We want to create a sense of experience. The design elements we build with are Context, Challenge, Activity and Feedback. (Reference: Michael W. Allen’s books on eLearning)

Context is the framework and conditions for the learning content to get meaning. Context creates retention.

  • Physical – the environment in which you learn becomes part of the information imprint
    • Visuals – Consider how you can have them learn in something that looks like where they will use the information. Instead of irrelevant themes for the sake of adding pizzazz, go take pictures of the real environment.
  • Behavioral Triggers – Create triggers in order to promote automaticity. “When you see this” prompts to activity
  • Emotional – Meaningful, Memorable, Motivational. Consider how you can make it feel more immediate, like it is happening right now, or create a point of need, demonstrate a real need.

Challenge is the stimulus to act; the reason the learner exerts the effort.

  • Challenge should build on context
  • Provide urgency in meeting the challenge (e.g. risk, meaning, interest or even curiosity)
  • Be aware of Hyperbolic Discounting, which is the notion that we have trouble with activities when there is a time delay between effort and reward, or between reward and consequence. Also be aware that attention is a form of currency. If the reward for learning is getting to use the information, then the longer the learner must wait to use the information, the less relevant it will seem to them. To counter this, either move the point of training closer to the time of use or create a fictional use that feels more realistic.

Activity is the physical response to the challenge.

  • Activity should feel natural
  • Should be similar to or reinforce actions being learned
  • Layering can help make it more complex, for instance recognition, followed by saying why it is the right choice.

Feedback is the reflection of the effectiveness of the learner’s action:

  • Should be consequence-based
  • Should be appropriately delayed and intrinsic to the challenge
  • Corrective unless in testing situations


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