In creating eLearning, one of the biggest challenges we face is being able to identify what should and shouldn’t be included. This is the key reason that we start by defining a clear goal for the solution, then working backwards to work out what learners need based on that.
The most common trap people fall into when designing eLearning, is they start by gathering all the information they have on a topic, then trying to work out how to “condense” everything into the course.
If you start with information, you will more often than not end up with information that has a pretty looking user interface. But no learning will happen as such.
For any training solution, information on the topic is the last piece of the puzzle to consider. Once you’ve understood the goal, what learners need to do to achieve that goal and how we can get them to practice the required behaviours, working out what source information we need should be as easy as colouring by numbers.
I often say the art of designing eLearning is creating a solution that gives the learner the least amount of information they need to achieve an outcome. The skill is finding the right balance between content and context. This balance is all about putting the learning back into eLearning.
It’s about finding a balance between giving them the knowledge to know they have to do something, and the skills to be able to complete that task.
There are many models and concepts for categorising information, but I thought I would share a simple and easy to remember method that should start you in the right direction.
Imagine we are creating eLearning on how to replace a light globe in the headlight of a car. Notice that my goal isn’t for them to “learning how to replace a light globe”. This would be too broad and make it difficult to work out what information is needed.
Lets now look the various categories of information we might have on this topic, and what should be included.
Core material is the information the learner would not be able to achieve the desired outcome without. Therefore this information must be included otherwise the desired outcome will not be achieved.
In our light globe scenario, the core material would be things like:
- How to remove the globe from the headlight
- How to check what sort of globe is required
- Where to get a replacement globe
- How to reinstall the globe
Without this material, the learner would not be able to complete the tasks required to change the light globe. This information has to be covered, otherwise it would be unreasonable to expect our learners to be able to achieve the desired outcome.
This is the material that will explain to the learner the context for them needing to learn something. We use this material to explain the core content more. If your learner doesn’t know why what they are learning is relevant to them, the chances of them retaining the information is very slim.
In essence, this material is how we motivate someone to learn.
The needs of the learner, the topic and the desired outcomes will impact how much of this sort of material you need to include in the training.
When it comes to changing a globe, this would include things like:
- You should replace the globe when it’s blown out
- You need the right globe otherwise it won’t fit
- You need to replace a globe when it’s out because it’s unsafe and illegal to drive with a blown light
This gives our learner the context for why and when they will apply their new found knowledge about changing globes in a car. If this was not included, our learner may not ever feel they need to or want to change the globe.
This is by far the most challenging category to put material into. Mainly because there is a perception that all knowledge on a topic is important to the learner. But as the name of this category suggests, including this material will be boring to your learners as it isn’t relevant to their needs.
SME’s and organisations gain knowledge on a particular topic over many years. While all this knowledge is valuable at a specific moment in time, it’s not necessarily relevant to someone’s learning needs just because it’s on the topic at hand.
It’s always a challenge to be able to critically look at a piece of information or knowledge, and be able to say “this isn’t going to be useful to the learner achieving their goal”.
Going back to our globe replacing scenario, the information that would be a bore is:
- Who invented the light globe
- The physics behind how a light globes works
- When headlights became a standard feature on cars
- Explanation why most globes are round
While this information is useful in the right context, it’s not useful to the learner in the context of our scenario. This is the information we have to learn to let go for the sake of the learner, and the sake of achieving our goal.
But this is often easier said than done and requires a lot of discipline from everyone involved.
So hopefully this has given you a bit of a framework of how to think about the information you need for your next eLearning project.