Components of xAPI Statements

xAPI statements need to conform to an “I did this” structure. Since each leaning event being tracked means that the learner has done something. When a learner does something a “statement” is sent to the Learning Record System (LRS) that contains these three components:

  • The Actor is an individual or group being tracked in the Statements. (The I in “I did this”)
  • The Verb is the action being done by the Actor within a Statement. (The did in “I did this”)
  • The Activity is the something with which an Actor interacted. It can be a unit of instruction, experience, or performance that is to be tracked. (The this in “I did this”)

In summary, xAPI tracks a person, performing an action within a specified activity.

How can we translate that into an idea of the practical application of xAPI in a learning context?

To make it easier to review and understand the statement structure I have put the example statements into a table format that shows the delivery method, the statement components and any notes on that statement.

Delivery Actor Verb Activity
eLearning from LMS Learner X (Identified from the LMS database) Passed (By achieving greater than 80%) The EEO online course.

This would be the equivalent to a standard SCORM based course completion call from the eLearning content to the LMS.

Delivery Actor Verb Activity
Face to Face Learner X (Identified by completing an attendance sheet) Attended (By showing up) The new employee induction workshop.

This would be the equivalent to an instructor updating the course attendance register in the LMS following a face to face training session.

Existing training, managed from an LMS, can fit neatly into the structure of xAPI statements and by simply varying the verb statement we can achieve different outcomes for the learner.

Delivery Actor Verb Activity
eLearning from LMS Learner X (Identified from the LMS database) Passed (By achieving greater than 80%)

Failed (By achieving less than 80%)

Is yet to finish (By not posting a quiz result)

Has not started (By not opening the course)

The EEO online course.

 

This is only just the tip of what xAPI has been designed to do. Lets look at some other potential xAPI statements that could flow from learning experiences beyond the LMS.

Delivery Actor Verbs Activity
Watching a video online Learner X (Identified from the xAPI coding) Played, Paused,  Stopped,
Resumed, Skipped, Finished watching.All of the above Verbs would have time and date stamps, so you could track all of the interactions the learner had with the video over time.
The work health and safety YouTube video.

To achieve this kind of tracking you need to able to update the YouTube iFrame code that launches the video to be able to code in your own xAPI statements. This can be done through the YouTube iFrame API and Javascript for example.

Here is an example of possible xAPI statement structure in a more physical exercise.

Delivery Actor Verbs Activity
Instructor watching an apprentice perform a repair on an engine. Learner X (Identified by the instructor on a tablet device) Inspected

Failed to inspect

Diagnosed

Failed to Diagnose

Fixed

Did not fix

The broken engine.

In an example the Instructor could have an xAPI quiz or survey on their tablet and as the apprentice completes the task or tasks, the instructor can enter details on the table that create multiple statements about the task and pass all this back to the LRS.

xAPI statements have the capability to both report on training completion in the same way that an eLearning SCORM course or LMS based instructor led course can but these same statements can be attached to be included in training components that LMS’s by themselves have a great deal of trouble coping with such as direct media tracking and skills demonstration exercises.

Take a look at Birch Learning Platform, with an LRS built in, we ensure you have everything you need when you’re ready to start embracing the power of xAPI.

Using Gamification in Articulate Storyline

So often eLearning is perceived as being tedious at best and at worst detrimental to actual learning. But with some imagination, any course can include interactions and design that engages the learner at a higher level than just their ability to read information then click the next button. Thankfully, Articulate Storyline makes the creative process an enjoyable task due to its ease of use.

Let’s take a look at a course we built for Toyota that where we revamped a simple quiz into a Race Track, click here to have a look at it live.

The Brief

The brief was to build eLearning that would:

  • re-enforce vehicle information and selling points for dealers
  • give them an enjoyable experience,
  • let them know that the experience would not take much time, and
  • would tap into a motor dealers innate competitive mindset.

The Solution

It was this last point that we focused on in the course design as this insight immediately suggested a course theme. If we combine a competitive mindset with a car company what do we get? A car race.

We built an interface where the learner moves their car around the track by correctly answering a sequence of questions about the model of vehicle in question.  To personalise the eLearning learners choose from 4 characters each with their own car. Each question is accessed by clicking on the numbered markers on the screen. These markers are protected so that you need to do each question in turn starting from 1. The protection for the markers is removed in turn, when the previous question is complete correctly by the learner. A timer was added to pace.

Feature #1 The Race Track

  1. Adjusting a True/False variable for each question, from false to true, only when the question was answered correctly.
  2. This same True/False variable set at each question was also used to “move” the car around the track as the questions were completed successfully.
  3. The car itself as seen in the image below, was set up with a series of states that depicted the car at various angles and at various points around the track. We have circled state q5 which shows the position of the car on the track when the learner reaches question 5.
  4. To move the car we have triggers that “Change the state” of the car to match the question on condition that the True/False variable for the previous question is True.

The same True/False variables were also used to update the achievements panel on the left of the main game interface. The achievements panel gives the learner stars as they complete each question successfully.

Feature #2  Achievements

These stars work in a very similar way to how our racing car moves around the track. Each star has 2 states one grey and one yellow, as the questions are completed successfully, the True/False variables are updated to true and when the learner arrives back on the race track there is a trigger to change the state of the stars from grey to yellow if the corresponding question variable is True.

Feature #3  Avatars

Another “fun” feature is the ability for the learner to select an avatar of themselves at the commencement of the course. Following the selection of the avatar, which also included a different colour car for each one, the learner sees that specific avatar throughout the course.

Clicking on each avatar sets a “Number” variable from 1 to 4. (Each number 1, 2, 3, 4, represents each character from left to right)

Here is an example of the trigger:

Once the variable is set to that specific number you use it on any other screen in the content. For instance, the screen image below shows one of the quiz screens and the character has been selected on the screen to show the states for that character in the states panel.

You can see that in this quiz screen the character has 4 states.  Now all we need is a set of triggers to change the characters state, when the timeline starts on the slide, on condition that the variable is 2, 3, or 4.

Feature #4  Visual Design

Putting aside, the client branding requirements for font, colours and logo etc, inspiration for a visual design usually follows on from the agreed theme for the course, in this case a race track.

Once the theme is agreed, then the designer can go in search of inspiration, by looking at stock images, print advertising, websites and Articulate eLearning Heroes. We found a graphic for the race track on Shutterstock that only took a small amount of tweaking to match the illustrated look and feel of the Articulate Storyline characters we were using in the course.

Learn how to use Gamification in Articulate Storyline

To learn how to build something like this consider our Certified Articulate Training workshop held in capital cities and client onsite.  It covers all the basic development building blocks:  Slides, States, Layers, and Triggers as well as more advanced functions such as the variables we used in this course to track the progress and to change the visual appearance of things such as the car and the character.  Check out our open enrolment training schedule here.

Compliance eLearning for Birch Learning Platform

Sydney, Australia – Using a cutting edge responsive design to provide a turnkey learning solution, the Birch Learning Platform eLearning catalogue delivers a perfect experience for everyone across all devices.  Featuring, media, interactions, workplace scenarios, bookmarking and knowledge checks.  Kept up to date with the latest legislative changes to ensure your organisation meets its compliance requirements.

A Perfect Experience for Everyone

Built using Articulate Rise or Articulate Storyline, means we can easily contextualise the content to include your organisations logo, policies, procedures, videos, images and weblinks.  Designed and developed by our awarded winning team and widely used by government and organisations.

Birch Learning Platform combines online learning with talent management so that compliance training can be linked directly to employee performance.

  • Monitor and assess each individual’s progress as well as your team.
  • Reduce the risk of non-compliance by monitoring training levels and maintaining accurate records as evidence of compliance
  • Alerts inform training managers (as well as team members) when goals require renewal. 
  • Show your team members exactly which course they need to take in order to maintain their compliance, allow them to obtain permission or to register in the course they need from their Dashboard.

The courses are available to Birch clients at no additional cost. Administrators can easily register learners to any courses they need to complete.

The current titles include:

Compliance Collection

  • Equal Employment Opportunity
  • Work Health & Safety 
  • Diversity
  • Conduct & Ethics
  • IT Security Essentials
  • Privacy Awareness
  • Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Business Collection

  • Work Priorities
  • Operational Plans
  • Workplace Relationships
  • Show Leadership
  • Team Effectiveness
  • Manage Work Health and Safety
  • Customer Service Management
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Workplace Learning
  • Project Management
  • Manage innovation and continuous improvement
  • Delivering Successful Presentations
  • Provide Coaching and Motivation
  • Conflict Management
  • Give and Receive Feedback
  • Effective Communication
  • Master eLearning Course

We encourage suggestions from our Birch Community on topics clients require. 

Need more content? Rapid Course™ is the eLearning industry’s first customisable off-the-shelf content marketplace, built in the award-winning Articulate®.  With 13 categories and 81 courses (and growing), we’re sure you’ll find what you need. What makes Rapid Course™ unique is that when you buy a course, the download includes the Articulate source files, so you can quickly customise the course for your needs! Find out more about Rapid Course here.

For more information please download the Birch Learning Platform Brochure or contact us

story tellling

Key Elements of Storytelling for eLearning

Everyone loves a good story. We are surrounded by stories in social media, movies, advertising and the news. People love to share anecdotes and jokes as a way to connect with each other. The best presenters use stories to capture the audience’s attention at the start.

What about eLearning designers? Do we need to be good at telling stories? Some people would say – ‘no we are creating courses not stories’. While that is true, there are many things eLearning designers can learn from the art of storytelling.

Storytelling is defined as “The telling of a happening or connected series of happenings, whether true or fictitious; account; narration.” (Denning, 2005)

In this post we look at elements of a good story and how we can apply these to eLearning design.

1.  Good stories are cohesive and well-structured.

There are conventions in the way stories are structured – the opening to hook the reader, the middle to develop the story and the end to reach a satisfying resolution.

An eLearning course also needs to be cohesive and well-structured. When planning a course, ask yourself:

  • ‘What elements will hold the course together?’.
  • ‘How will I hook the learners on the first few screens?’
  • ‘What is the most logical way to sequence the course content?’

Certainly visual design is important to create a cohesive look and feel. But what about the course structure? Do your screens jump from topic to topic with no common thread? Is there a story that you could use to hold the topics together?

For example if you are designing a course ‘Provide Coaching and Mentoring’, you could introduce two characters at the start – Jan, the mentor, and Sara the mentee. The characters can introduce each new topic and talk about their experience of the mentoring process…how they met, how they planned their first meeting, how they set goals with each other and so on.

I like Articulate Storyline because it encourages eLearning designers to think in terms of ‘telling a story’. It features ‘Story View’ where the designer sees an aerial view of the course (the story), including scenes (the chapters) and slides (the pages). This helps to make sense of how the course is going to fit together. Screens and scenes can be easily rearranged. Story View encourages creativity because there are so many different ways that you can structure the course; for example using branched scenarios.

2.  Good stories are memorable.

Usually it is the people in a story that we remember the most. You can certainly design an eLearning course without people in it, but it might not be very engaging.

I like the way Articulate’s Storyline provides characters that you can insert quickly and easily. Sure the learner might not remember the characters like they remember Harry Potter, but at least they are more likely to relate to the character and this can assist learning.

Here is an example from the Articulate 360 content library. The characters come in a range of poses and expressions so you can use the same character throughout the course.

If you are designing a course for the health sector, insert images of a nurse or doctor in different poses throughout the course. Give the security expert a name and put him or her in different work situations that the learners are likely to face. Talk to the Subject Matter Expert if you need details to make the situation more realistic.

3.  Good stories are often about overcoming problems.

We are social creatures who like to relate to other people. This is why scenarios are so fantastic for eLearning courses. For example a workplace scenario typically presents a challenge or problem that the character faces – and then the learner is asked ‘What would you do?’. This encourages the learner to think for themselves. All the best stories are about overcoming problems!

Imagine you are creating a course about Equal Employment Opportunity. You could think of a central character who faces a struggle. The obvious one is that she faces discrimination on the basis of her disability. Introduce the character to learners and insert an image of her. Return to her throughout the course. Describe her experience at job interviews. Ask the learners questions about how prospective employers communicated with her. And if you like, make it a happy ending where she finally lands her dream job. The learners are likely to remember the character in your course.

Final Word

Of course story telling is not going to be appropriate for all eLearning courses. It will depend on the purpose of the course, the target learners and other considerations.

I would like to finish with two quotes about the power of stories:

“Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.” John Kotter, Harvard Business School Professor

“Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.” Dr Pamela Rutledge

Interested in learning more about writing brilliant stories using Articulate Storyline, visit our Certified Articulate training webpage here 

How to Review eLearning Courses

When it comes to developing eLearning courses, there are many things that can go wrong. Okay, so that isn’t the most positive start to this blog post! But the fact is that a single eLearning developer will not pick up every error in the first version of an eLearning course.

Just as an author works with an editor, and a journalist needs a proofreader, it is only natural that eLearning developers need feedback from other people to identify errors and problems. Fresh eyes are needed because the developer is often too close to the material. But effective course reviews cannot be done in an ad hoc manner.

To collect quality feedback, you need a structured review process. This involves determining who will review a course (both internally and externally) and what the timeframes for review will be. In this post I will look at some important aspects of the quality control process.

Clarifying the Review Process

If you are developing a course for a new client, it is important to communicate with them about the review process. This should be done at the start of a project. If you wait until near the end of the development process, you could run into problems such as project timeline blowout and additional costs.

A typical problem is the late entrance of unexpected stakeholders who request additional content be added to the course. To avoid such problems, you must provide a clear understanding of how the review will work before the project commences.

Consider the following questions:

  • What steps will there be in the review process?
  • Who are the key stakeholders involved in the project?
  • How much time is needed for the review process?
  • Are the deadlines realistic for both parties?
  • What amendments are not included in the Scope at each review that would incur additional cost?

In some cases you might be developing a course with the help of several Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). For example if there are 5 SMEs, are you prepared to go through 5 different review documents? What happens if different team members have different views on necessary changes? A good solution is to ask the team to nominate a spokesperson for the group.

The SMEs could have a team meeting amongst themselves and then the team leader can produce a single review document on behalf of the team. This would save you time and also keep costs down (a good incentive for the client).

If you are using Articulate 360 then consider using Articulate Review web app. It allows you to gather consolidated feedback throughout your project, show stakeholders the latest version, and manage resolved comments after making changes.

Checking for Accuracy

The first version of your course is likely to have inaccuracies but there is no need to panic. If you have a thorough checklist of questions at hand, it will help you and others to identify errors. In fact, I have found that many SMEs actually like spotting errors (as long as there are not too many!).

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is the actual content in the course accurate (e.g. facts, figures, names)?
  • Is the content up to date?
  • Is there any content missing?
  • Have you checked for typos and spelling errors?
  • Does the audio script match exactly what the learners are hearing?
  • Are the instructions clear and correct?
  • Are the quiz or test answers correct?

Checking for Consistency

Consistency is needed to make your course look professional and cohesive. It helps to give the learners a sense of stability when working through the content. Some questions to consider when checking for consistency include:

  • Is the look of the course consistent with other courses for the same client? (e.g. colours of the player)
  • Is there consistency with the use of fonts (font type and size) for headings, body text and so on?
  • Have you been consistent with terminology throughout the course? For example a course can be referred to as a ‘unit’, a ‘session’, a ‘module’ – choose one term and stick to it.

Using templates will assist with consistency. But more on that in another blog post.

Checking for Functionality

When a course has been published and loaded to a Learning Management System, it is ready to be checked for functionality. Keep in mind that features such as links to websites may work in the pre-publishing phase, but then not work on the LMS and vice versa.

Before the course goes live, make sure you have tested all the technical components of the course from the environment where the course will be deployed. Allow time for problem-solving because it can take longer than you think, especially if there is a problem you have not encountered before. I have found the eLearning Heroes community an excellent resource for finding solutions to technical problems.

Here are just a few things to watch out for:

  • Is the navigation working according to client’s requirements (e.g. Does the client want learners to pass the quiz before progressing to the final screen?)
  • Do the videos in the course play correctly?
  • Are there any problems with visibility (e.g. video too small, font size too small)?
  • Do animations appear at the right time to synch with the audio?
  • Do the links in the course work correctly?

Final Word

This is just a sample of things to check. It is best to develop your own review checklist, even if it’s as simple as a table in a Word document.  Download this simple template to use.  I recommend developing a new checklist for each client. By tailoring the checklist to the clients’ needs, you are more likely to meet their specific requirements.

xAPI for Beginners

The definition of learning in Google dictionary is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught.”.  Even under the three basic headings of study, experience and being taught we can group most events in any given hour, on any given day, week, month or year and call them learning events.

Humans are learning machines, everything we experience is a learning event that either confirms and re-enforces previous learning or provides us with new knowledge, perspectives, skills, experiences and expectations.

Learning is something we do naturally, and we do it all the time.

So, what is learning is in the sphere of L&D or Training departments?

In this context, learning is an event that can be reported on! Which means that the learning event must be one which the Department has control over. This means controlling the access, delivery media, timeframe and the success criteria for that event. Just look at the standard training delivery formats of eLearning or face to face training. Both formats are all about control of the training delivery down to the time and location and they also look at learning at a more macro/broad topic level.

Outside of eLearning and face to face training, people are still learning and acquiring skills and knowledge all the time. But there is a gap in our ability to acknowledge and report on these uncontrolled micro learning activities.

It’s this gap between defined learning courses and more learner driven learning experiences that xAPI has been developed to fill.  xAPI is a method we can use to report on learning experiences that happen within our existing delivery structures and also through any other networked device, application, media or object.

So xAPI is really about learning related data. Getting more data, getting better data, getting constant data and being able to report on this data.

To make this happen xAPI needs 3 things:

  1. A standard data statement being generated by the experience of the learner – this statement structure effectively states “I did this” for any learning experience
  2. A method to transfer the data from the experience to a database – this is coding that is either already embedded within the experience or needs to be added by you (or a company who can create this code or who provides a connection to experiences that pre-coded)
  3. A place to store the data being generated by the learners – this is called a Learning Record Store or LRS

But before we get to those concepts one quick home truth. We are dealing with electronic data here, so as some point the details of the learning training experience needs to travel to the LRS, so connectivity will be required at some point in this process, but it does not need to be constant. For instance data captured on a tablet device whilst the device is off-line can be downloaded to the LRS once the connection is re-established, but a connection will be required at some point.

Let’s touch on each of the 3 xAPI components in a little more detail.

Standard data statements

In order for the learning records to all make sense a standardised structure has been created around the “I did this” concept, since each leaning event being tracked means that the learner has done something. When a learner does something a “statement” is sent to the LRS that contains three components:

  • The Actor is an individual or group being tracked in the Statements. (The I in “I did this”)he Actor
  • The Verb is the action being done by the Actor within a Statement. (The did in “I did this”)
  • The Activity is the something with which an Actor interacted. It can be a unit of instruction, experience, or performance that is to be tracked. (The this in “I did this”). Interpretation of Activity is broad, meaning that Activities can even be tangible objects such as a pump or motor. Other examples of Activities include a book, an e-learning course, a calendar event (such as a meeting) and a physical event (like walking to specified destination).

The method of transfer

Depending on your technical know-how this part of the xAPI story may lead you to work more closely with a content vendor, such as B Online Learning, that understands coding. To get your xAPI statement (I did this) to your LRS you will need to have computer coding, embedded in the device or program or object that the Actor is working on or with, that will pick up the details of the learning event and transfer those details via a web link to the LRS.

There are several different coding languages that xAPI can work on such as Java, PHP, Python or .NET to name only a few, but this is really the critical aspect of XAPI as it is a properly formatted code that mean the difference between being able to track and report on learning events and getting no tracking and reporting at all.

We will cover some different examples of where this coding can be applied to get a practical outcome in an upcoming blog.

Learning Record Store (LRS)

This is basically a computer server that is responsible for receiving, storing, and providing access to Learning Records. The LRS differs from a Learning Management System (LMS) in that the LRS is all about accumulating data records and LMS authenticates learners, registers them in courses and assessments then completes those courses and assessments.

An LRS can part of a larger Learning Platform like Birch or it can stand alone. We will cover how Birch works with xAPI data and why having an LRS embedded within your learning platform makes a great deal of sense in an another blog soon.

Want to learn more about xAPI? Register to watch our recorded webinar here.

Three eLearning Design Challenges and Solutions

There is no doubt that eLearning designers need strong problem-solving skills. In the early stages of any design project, we need to wear our analytical hats and work out how to transform training content into an engaging learning experience.

When faced with 100 slides of content from a client, it can be a daunting task to organise the material and then build an eLearning course. Then again, some of us just love a challenge!

Here are three design challenges that I have faced and the steps I took to meet the challenge.

Condense large amounts of learning content provided by the client.

Recently I had a client provide material that included 6 PowerPoint slides covering all the legislation that learners needed to know. If I just added a few images and kept the content on 6 different screens, imagine how the learner’s eyes would soon glaze over reading screen after screen of legislation. My challenge was to present the material in a succinct way and to keep the learner’s attention.

Using Articulate Storyline, I condensed all the content into one interactive screen with tabs to reveal a layer for each piece of legislation.  The result is an interaction that is far less daunting for the learner (one screen of legislation looks better than six!). In addition, learners are more likely to get involved by clicking on the various elements on the screen. If the client insists that the learner reads every item on the screen, you can set the interaction so that she or he has to view each item before progressing to the next screen.

Create consistency in the eLearning course without making it dull.

As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. But when it comes to eLearning course design, too much variety is confusing for the learner. Imagine an online course with 10 different fonts, 10 different characters, 10 types of animation and every colour of the rainbow. How would this affect the learning experience? Most likely it would confuse the learner as the course would appear disjointed and hard to follow.

The best practice is to design with consistency in mind. Here are some ways to create a cohesive course:

  • 1 or 2 fonts only – We like to use one font for the screen titles and another for the body text.
  • Templates – Player templates and slide masters create a cohesive look and feel (while saving you time).
  • Colour scheme – Stick to 2 or 3 key colours for elements on the screen.
  • Activity boxes – Keep the same colour and format for special activity boxes in the course.
  • Symbols – This is a good way to provide recognisable markers for learners (e.g. a question mark icon to indicate a discussion question).
  • Main character – Introduce your character at the start and bring them in throughout the course, but not every screen.
Encourage the learner to stop and take a closer look.

Adult learners are usually time-poor and so they might be tempted to rush through an eLearning course. The challenge for the designer is to create courses that encourage learners to slow down, interact with the material and to think more carefully. There are many ways to do this—case studies, scenarios, quizzes, activities. The key is to draw the learner into the course through interaction.

Let’s say the learning material includes a flow chart. You could just copy and paste the flow chart onto the screen. Using this approach, some learners would stop and read through the flow chart; but many would just skip the screen because there is nothing to draw them in. The challenge here is to create an interactive screen. Again using Articulate Storyline the learner can click on each of the flow chart elements to read about that stage of the process. This is a great way to encourage the learner to take a closer look and digest the information at a deeper level.

Final word

If you are ever stuck with a design problem and need help or inspiration, I encourage you to go the E-Learning Heroes website. The E-Learning Heroes community has over 700,000 eLearning professionals who exchange ideas, solve problems, share resources and inspire each other.

If you are not already part of the community, it is easy to join up and find the help and inspiration you need. For a more formal training approach you could also try B Online Learning’s eLearning Design Essentials Course or our Certified Articulate Training.

Tips for eLearning Scriptwriting

One of the many skills that eLearning designers need is the ability to write clear and engaging audio scripts. Good narration should complement what the learner sees on the screen. At its best, the narration draws the attention of the learner to the key learning points, while at the same time making the learning experience far more enjoyable. In this post I will look at three considerations for writing good audio scripts.

1.  Getting the tone right

Most eLearning courses require a fairly conversational tone for the audio. Usually there is one narrator (e.g. an SME, professional voiceover person) who guides the learner screen-by-screen through the course. The learners become familiar with that one voice, in much the same way as they do listening to a trainer/teacher at the front of a classroom.

So how does this affect the way you write the script? As a general rule, I would avoid overly formal language.

Compare the tone of these two sentences:

Example 1: Before the commencement of the course, you must understand the correct way to complete it.

Example 2: Before we get started, let’s take a moment to understand how to complete this online course.

The second example has a friendlier tone and is more likely to engage the learners. It is similar to the tone that would be used in the face-to-face context.

2.  Complementing the visuals

It is best to avoid the narrator reading out exactly what is on the screen. If the narrator is simply reading out what the learner can read for themselves, it can make for a repetitive (and sometimes irritating!) learning experience.

When a new screen appears, the learners are instantly taking in the visual elements in front of them. Good narration supports what the learner sees. The narrator can serve many purposes such as provide background information, draw the learner’s attention to particular elements on the screen or provide more details about points as they appear.

In this example from a Fraud Awareness course, the narrator describes the fact that fraud against the Commonwealth is a crime (the script is on the left of the screen), and this leads into the specifics of the relevant legislation. In this way the narrator is providing the necessary background before the learner starts clicking the numbered tabs to read about the legislation.

3.  Writing succinctly

When you write succinctly, it means you are not ‘waffling on’. There is no time in an elearning course for longwinded writing. Remember that learners are usually time-poor and they appreciate a narrator getting right to the point.

Compare these two sentences:

Example 1: Informal meetings are different from formal meetings. The latter have more requirements than the former. One point is that informal meetings are not so structured. Nevertheless informal meetings should still be called for a specific purpose.

Example 2: Although there are fewer requirements for informal meetings and they can be less structured, they should still be called for a specific purpose.

The second example gets to the point more quickly. It does not have any unnecessary words.

Good narration is clear and does not require a second listening to understand the meaning.

We also need to think about how much information the learner can digest on one screen. If the narration on one screen is too long, you may lose the attention of the learner. Consider shortening the text in the audio script and putting that information on the screen or in an additional document that learners can download. Alternatively you could split the content into two screens.

Final word

As always, it is best to put yourself in the shoes of the learner. Read the script aloud to yourself and decide if it is working well with the elements on the screen.  Do this before sending the script off to be recorded. This will save you time and effort, while ultimately making the learning experience more enjoyable for the target audience.

Ways to Present Content in eLearning

There is a whole range of ways that information can be presented online. Most eLearning courses use a combination of instructional methods to provide information to the user.

We all sometimes get a bit ‘dry’ on inspiration, and you may have a preferred presentation method that you always fall back on by default. If it’s achieving its purpose of meeting the learning gap, and you can see so via your post course evaluations then ok; however other times we may just be repeating a presentation method ad Infinium slowly boring our learners to a long quiet death of boredom!

How do we keep things interesting and engaging? The short answer is we ‘shake it up’, using a mix of presentation styles to communicate the learning.

Before we careen away on throwing in as much variety as possible though, keep a couple of things in mind:

  1. A single type of presentation is repetitive and gets boring fast.
    Using slide after slide of text on left and picture on right will get the learner to the ‘kingdom of snooze’ on the ‘expressway of ludicrous speed’. Respectively, having slide after slide of interactions, where the learner has to interact with the screen every single moment can also get irritating as well – sometimes learners want to just read, pause and reflect. Look to balance the variety of the ways you present information. A great ‘rule of thumb’ that works when you are starting out is to aim at some sort of interaction every 3-4 screens.
  2. Keep in mind who your learners are. You should understand this before you even start authoring. Would they prefer ‘get in and get out’? If so you may need to limit the amount of complex interactions you are planning to use to a really good one, that hits the learning need directly on the head, as opposed to multiple ones that drag the process out. Quality over quantity. Or if they like games, journey and discovery; use gamified learning, or a learning adventure/journey to engage them rather than an extremely well designed infographic.
    Who your learners should always influence how you present your information and activities.

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but is a good starting point for thinking about the variety of ways you can present your content.

Presentation

Short chunks of material presented to the learner. Think text and image. A good example of this type of presentation is your stock, standard PowerPoint presentation slide. Now a lot of people groan the minute you mention PowerPoint, and if your entire course looks like that, I would agree. However a single slide here or there to consolidate learnings or to summarise information is appropriate. The key word here is ‘short’. Don’t provide a page of text for them to read, if you do, you might as well have given them a PDF to review. Use an active voice, and focus on removing any extraneous words, like excessive adverbs.

Check out my previous blog post 7 Steps for Writing for eLearning for more information.

Demonstrations

Using video or animations to demonstrate tasks and procedures. Video is great for this kind of presentation. Check out my blog posts on Enhancing Digital Learning Experiences with Video and Using Video in Articulate Storyline for more information and ideas.

Graphics and Illustrations

You can also use still or animated graphics, charts and diagrams to reinforce content or illustrate processes. Infographics are great for this type of presentation because they allow information to be communicated visually while generating interest factor in the content.

Interactions

Integrated opportunities throughout the course that allow users to explore content, apply knowledge and check understanding through questions games and activities. Interactivity is the key that keeps the learner’s interest, and assists them in embedding new knowledge once they have completed a learning module. It also helps to make the e-learning experience a little more fun! Check out my post on Aligning eLearning Levels of Interactivity with Articulate 360 for more ideas.

Sound

Sound in eLearning engages and motivates the learner. Whether it be via audio narration, different voices bringing a case study to life, or a rockin’ soundtrack! I’ve seen some movie quality soundtracks and soundfx added to modules that really draw learners into a learning journey or a gamified interaction! Can you create an audio soundscape to engage your learners?

Simulations

Whether they be a software simulation, where the learner can watch and then try a process onscreen, or even a product simulation like replacing virtual cartridges in a virtual printer, simulations have the advantage of letting the learner practice a process in a safe environment where it is ok if they don’t perform to the best of their ability, or if they do it incorrectly. By ‘failing forward’ it allows them to see where they went wrong, receive coaching or remedial training and then how they can apply their learnings to do better in the future.

Case studies, stories and scenarios

Reality is the ultimate learning situation. Learners engage with real life stories, case studies and scenarios much better than with bullet points. Tell a story about what you are covering, show them how it applies in their current situation.

One of the best ways we learn is by hearing what has happened to others and how they dealt with a particular situation.

  • Is what they did something that we could do? If so, what did they do?
  • How can I apply their discovery to my current situation?
  • Is what they did the worst possible scenario, and by viewing the consequences of their actions does that allow us to modify our own?

Never underestimate the power of a good story. If you want to take it a step further, turn the experience into a ‘choose your own adventure’ scenario for your learner, let them see the problem or challenge and have to make their own choice as to how they will deal with it, but then most importantly let them learn by seeing the consequences of their actions.

Scenarios are highly learner centred, and are based on the concept of situated cognition, which is the idea that knowledge can’t be known and fully understood independent of its context. Learning seldom takes place by rote. Learning occurs because we immerse ourselves in a situation in which we’re forced to perform. We get feedback from our environment and adjust our behaviour. Now that’s a powerful learning experience!

As you can see there are a multitude of ways we can present information to our learners. Just make sure you understand what your learner needs, and get your imagination firing!

Learner Centric eLearning Design

Years ago when I was learning to be a teacher, I was quickly thrown in the deep end to teach a group of adult learners. ‘Prac teaching’ can be a daunting experience.  I still remember the feedback from the teacher who observed my first lesson; she said I needed to be more ‘learner-centric’.

It took me a while to truly appreciate the difference between a teacher-centric and a learner-centric approach. In this post I would like to explore the difference, and in particular how it can be applied to eLearning design.

Teacher-centric approach

With this approach, the teacher is thinking about ‘what content do I need to deliver in the lesson’ and the goal is to cover everything by the end of the lesson. In essence, the lesson becomes like a presentation. The teacher does most of the talking/presenting and the learners are more like passive recipients of the information.

Designer-centric approach

When it comes to eLearning design, there is also the risk of being so preoccupied with organising content that we overlook the needs of the learners. The focus is on pushing out the content, rather than pulling in the learner. In the field of eLearning, perhaps we could call this approach ‘designer-centric’ or even ‘SME-centric’.  This approach often results in courses that look very similar to presentations.

Learner-centric approach

Here is a useful definition of the learner-centric/student-centric approach:

“In student-centred learning, students are active participants in their learning, they learn at their own pace and use their own strategies….learning is more individualised than standardised. Student-centred learning develops learning-how-to-learn skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking. Student-centred learning accounts for and adapts to different learning styles of students.”

Teachers and trainers who use a learner-centred approach are able to tune into the individual needs of learners and do their best to meet those needs.

How can eLearning designers be learner-centric?

With the latest technological advances in authoring tools, it is becoming easier for designers to create engaging courses that cater to individual needs and preferences.

Here are a few suggestions for being more learner-centric in eLearning design:
  1. Think of the course as an experience for the learner. If you realise that your eLearning course is starting to look more and more like a presentation, then it is time to step back and imagine you are the person taking the course. Would you enjoy the learning experience or would your eyes soon glaze over?
  2. Use scenario-based learning. This involves presenting a realistic situation to the learners and then asking them to apply knowledge by making a choice. Each choice branches to a screen with different consequences. This is a great way to encourage the learner to actively participate in the course. You are asking them to think for themselves and make their own decisions.
  3. Give learners choices where appropriate. For example if you are including a research activity, give the learners a choice of three websites to go to. Another option is to give them a choice of topics to research. This will make the learning experience more enjoyable.
  4. Provide a range of mediums for people to learn from – videos, podcasts, documents, graphs, charts, lists, quizzes, activities and so on. This will help you to cater for visual learners, auditory learners and so on. For example you could provide this instruction: Read the PDF document attached. Alternatively watch the video which covers the same information.
  5. Give learners additional resources to branch off and explore a topic further if they need to.  Remember that each learner brings her or his own pre-existing knowledge and skills to a course. Some learners will need more information than others. I like the idea of boxes throughout a course entitled – ‘Want to know more?’ or ‘Need more information?’ – and then you can insert a link to a document or website with more details. This is not for essential course information; instead it is for supplementary material. Some people may read the additional information out of interest, others out of necessity and others may ignore it. The point is you are recognising potential differences and catering for those differences in the course design.
Final word

Of course at the most basic level, a learner-centred approach means you must have a good understanding of who the learners are. Before starting the storyboard, it is worth doing any necessary research about the ages, abilities, attitudes and expectations of the learners. With a clear learner profile in mind, it is easier to design a course that meets their specific needs.

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