Monday, October 5, 2009

Wiser After My First Rapid E-learning Course

My first rapid e-learning course was a great experience. The sheer development phase itself was thrilling in spite of the tight deadline breathing down my neck. After I rolled it out, my managers were delighted. However, I was still skeptical about how good it is. I decided to get some feedback.
Here comes the feedback and my learning from them:
Feedback 1: The course is not non linear: An oft-quoted concept. But how many of us ensure that our courses are non linear? I started off my course (I swear to God!) with the intension of making it non linear. But alas! Did I did not see the trees for the forest? Each of my chapters indicated that there was some previous information provided prior to that. It sounded linked – not independent.

A linear course has a fixed learning path – the learners are guided through the content page-by-page. A non linear course is where learners can choose their own learning path. To ensure that your courses are non linear, each topic/chapter/module should stand independent.

For example, if I were to make my course non linear, I would not have references to the previous topics. The learner should be able to start on a new topic afresh without having to rely on previous discussions or content. In e-learning parlance, we call it “modular topics”. Modularity ensures that each topic/chapter/lesson is an independent unit by itself. It does not require a background to make its content clear.

Here is an interesting blog post on linear courses by Rupa: What is a Linear E-learning Course?
Also refer Tom Kuhlman’s: Are Your E-Learning Courses Pushed or Pulled?

Feedback 2: Concept Introduction: My course was on FxCop, a Microsoft tool. The feedback suggested that it would be great if the course can start off with a case study or a real life scenario on why a learner would want to learn the course at all.
This brings the Relevance aspect of Keller’s ARCS model. One of the key factors that ensure learner motivation is relevance. The moment a learner can relate to something relevant to her, the urge to learn becomes natural. Learning no longer becomes a chore.

Feedback 3: Descriptive v/s Diagrammatic: I had a section in the course that explained a workflow that pertains to a set of sequential processes within the tool. To explain this, I had a brief discussion about the work flow, complemented by a flow diagram. The feedback suggested that I show the process on the tool itself, as a demonstration. The flow chart can then be provided as an extra reference. Great tip, I thought. However, I was not allowed to invest on any tool such as Camtasia or Captivate that would have enabled me to capture product demos. All I was allowed to touch was PowerPoint. So, I had to resort to the flow chart. As I reflect on it now, I could have probably captured the screen shots of each step of the flow chart and depicted them as a better instructional strategy.

Apart from these comments, when I reflected on the course again, I found something that totally lost its relevance: Avatar! I had an avatar in the course - called Sergeant Mac. Since FxCop is a tool that monitors flaws in code, the character that came to my mind was that of a cop. So I created Sergeant Mac and I loved him instantly!

However, halfway through the course, Mac is completely ignored and forgotten (ouch!). When I look at the course now, I wonder why I had him there at all in the first place. Had I used Flash to develop the course, maybe I could animate Mac and utilize him a lot more. But yes – it is a flaw - never use an avatar if you don’t intend to do much with it. The course would have gone fine even if Mac was not there to run it.

The flip side of it is my learners seem to remember Mac quite a lot. He has stayed on their minds. Probably it was a learner’s delight because it added a touch of informality.
But then why exactly would we want to use avatars in courses? If they don’t add value, they'd better not be used in the first place.

In all, it was a great learning. I feel post mortem helps…it’s all learning – not content resting in peace!