Conference round up – Creating Engaging and Effective content

by | May 25, 2009 | Articles

On Friday 8th May, the eLearning Network returned to Holborn Bars for an event on Creating Engaging and Effective Learning Content.

Committee member Rob Hubbard opened the day by asking the audience to consider eLearning as an art. His suggestion that there was a similarity because they both take their inspiration from many areas was something that came up in later presentations too.

If we all know what makes engaging elearning, why is so much of it dull?

Patrick Dunn of Networked Learning opened his session with this very simple challenge. He went on to share his journey through elearning, which he saw as having four distinct phases;

1. Methods & Media – In this phase the focus was primarily on the media tools; let’s add pictures, and animation and make it fun. Above all, we must have interactivity! There is plenty of straightforward advice I this area, such as use simple language and don’t repeat text as audio verbatim. Within his own organization Patrick created some simple tools to help manage media, which would deal with elements such as pacing, interactivity and the richness of the media.

He proposed the CREAM model; Control, Relevance, Emotion, Action and a Multi Sensory environment. To be engaged, learners must have control over content which is relevant to what they do. It must make some emotional connection with the learner. The learner must be able to act, because without action, no learning takes place. As we know from theories of accelerated learning, we are better able to deliver learning if we stimulate all of the senses.

Conclusion 1 – You can engage people with appropriate use of methods and media, but that’s only a small part of it

2. Learning Strategies – The big idea behind how you do things. This is rooted in the principles of learning, and what causes people to change. The methods and media are the tactical elements that support delivery of the strategy. The connected world has made us impatient. People want to better themselves and they don’t want to waste their time. It is up to the strategy to define how this will be done.

Conclusion 2 – Engaging elearning is built on effective elearning strategies

3. Design Process – Linking in to the idea of elearning as art, Patrick suggested that we could learn from either design approaches, such as graphic design and industrial design. Good design is reliant on good process.

In most cases instructional design is more akin to engineering than art, and typically goes through the following steps; performance objectives, learning objectives, learning strategy and tactics. Some very good instructional design follows a process much more like that of designers, and take a much more iterative approach. Moving between each phase as required. Like designers, it focuses on the user experience rather than the content.

Conclusion 3 – Engaging elearning is built using fluid, iterative, user focused processes.

4. Culture & Personality – “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” a quotation from the Ford Motor Company, is something we should all think about when working on an elearning initiative.

Patrick investigated the values of an organisation that produces engaging elearning, and found that they are fun and externally focused, and that this is entrenched in their beliefs and culture. They tend to have blurry roles, where people’s responsibilities regularly cross over.

Conclusion 4 – Engaging elearning is built by organisations with appropriate cultural values by people with design orientation.

Demonstrations and hands on practice
As part of the day, I gave a short demonstration of Balsamiq Mockups, a tool designed for wireframing websites and software interfaces and we investigated how this could also be used to outline elearning modules.
Claire Line and Fae Longman then introduced the group to The Search for Weapons of Mass Instruction. The attendees were able to get up close demonstrations of Articulate Presenter, Atlantic Link, CourseBuilder and Thinking Worlds, as well as having access to visitors from the companies producing or distributing the tools.

Learning for people, by People.

Lucy Cartlidge and Stephanie Dedhar of Saffron Interactive talked about meeting the expectations of the client, and more importantly the end user, as the key to a long lasting relationship. By working together over a period of time it is better possible to understand the organisation’s culture.

There is a growing trend to using more e-enabled solutions, with them regularly being part of a blended solution.

Comparisons were drawn between good face to face training and good elearning; it is engaging, the learner is actively involved, they remember it, have chances for collaboration and discussion and also the opportunity to practice.

They suggested adopting a test and tell approach, rather than the more usual tell and test. This allows you to check what base knowledge the learner has, to build from it and to reinforce what they already know.
Rob Hubbard returned to the floor and led the group as they worked together on a collaborative mindmap, featuring the key points associated with creating engaging content. The mindmap can be found here.

Case study with NCALT

Mark Osborne and Jon Aveling of NCALT, gave a presentation on Exceeding Expectations by Delivering Quality. When they first launched elearning, they faced some resistance, as this was not a natural approach within the police service.

The focus was on a quality driven approach, with a centralised design and delivery team of multi skilled people. They defined an instructional design framework and production process, and supported this with a set of templates.

They demonstrated a number of pieces of content, which used variety of different treatments and styles suited to the subject. Straightforward informative content was delivered using simple graphics, whereas more hard hitting emotive content used interactive video scenarios.

Because the culture was not a natural fit, it was important to get people engaged from the start. Those running the Police Service clearly want people on the street doing their job, so it was important to demonstrate how elearning could save time away from the workplace, without impacting on quality.

Elearning champions were a key part of the launch, as it provided support at a local level where it was needed.

Towards Maturity have previously featured NCALT, and you can read their story here;

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