e-learning tips and tutorials for e-learning designers

#DevLearn-704: Designing eLearning that Gains and Keeps Learner Attention

Summary: Dan provided a variety of techniques and examples to show how we can gain and keep our learner’s attention.

This session was presented by Dan Myers, Manager of Instructional Design, The Cheesecake Factory.

Today’s learners are faced with distractions – text messages, status updates, phone calls, tweets, and e-mail. These distractions are constant and are not going away. Amid all of these distractions and pressures, people are expected to teach large amounts of content and ensure that learners can remember it and make a behavior change. In many cases, traditional ways of designing e-learning fail to gain and hold the learner’s attention when teaching sometimes boring or dry content. At the same time, it’s difficult to justify the time and/or cost of many solutions such as 3-D immersive virtual simulations, quality video, and elaborate branching scenarios.

So Dan began by asking the question: what gets learner attention in the first place?

Using Bloom’s taxonomy, Dan discussed the cognitive domain (knowing), which includes content and knowledge checks. The psychomotor (doing) part is interactivity. Dan thinks we generally do these two things well. However, we need to work on the affective domain (feeling). This includes things like story, characters, music, art, values, conflict, and humor.

To improve our learning in the affective domain, Dan argued for developing and then sticking to the characters and theme used throughout a course taught in a storytelling fashion. Sticking to the characters and theme means not breaking up the story with an out-of-place quiz either. Instead, we must integrate our quizzing into the story we are telling.

Visually, courses should not represent what Dan calls the “sea of sameness.” Here, he’s referring to using the same templates and color schemes for each course. His suggestion is to throw out the templates and make each course independent and very visually different from one another.

Fast, cheap, easy… and attention getting!

One idea mentioned is to take courses and present them in a fashion consistent with how learners use the web. The example given was a course on “insider trading” that was presented as a three column “web story” (this was a news-like screen that was really the course menu). This allowed learners to drill down into each “news story” to find out more. Some news web sites also commonly include a viewer poll to make it look more like a real site, and Dan used this idea in his “news articles” as well. This project took 64 hours to develop.

He also suggests personalizing content by using the learner’s name in our courses, perhaps pulling it from the LMS on launch. The example Dan provided was a commendation for an employee (whose name was listed) that talked about the great service received. This was contrasted with another story about bad service from a competing company; this pointed out the kinds of things employees should not be doing.

Case study of a story/thematic approach

Another example showed Security Awareness training, which was based around the idea of the learner having 24 minutes to find a mole in the company who was looking to cause financial damage and negatively impact shareholder value. The entire course carried out the theme, such as with a listing of suspects presented in a whodoneit style. In the course, each of the learning points are presented as “evidence” to be investigated. Learners were also asked to complete an evidence log for the three suspects; the intent is to use the story to get learners to take notes on proper security awareness procedures. Knowledge checks were presented as security points the learner had to pass through. Multiple-choice questions were interactive and presented as a shooting gallery.

All of the examples above are based around the idea of strengthening our training in the affective domain by improving our use of story, characters, music, art, values and conflict and then cementing this content in the learner’s mind through a single compelling theme.

Dan also suggests not giving the instructional objectives or descriptions to the students because this detracts from the story and theme. This kind of information should be placed in the LMS instead.

The Cheesecake Factory changes its menus every six months, so new training is needed. To introduce new menu items, the Cheesecake Factory uses a variety of narrators. In the example shown, different narrators each explained one of the new dishes. After the dishes are explained, in the assessment learners are asked to drag and drop ingredients on to the various dishes in the correct order. As the items are dropped, short videos play to show the answer is correct and confirm the proper technique. If the answer is incorrect, remediation is given.

Here’s the summary of Dan’s takeaways:

  • Templates get boring for the learner – give your courses variety.
  • Be creative and don’t break character, even in your knowledge checks.
  • Put your course description and formal learning objecgtives in your LMS instead of your course.
  • Use multiple narratorws for vocal variety and to make maintenance easier.
  • If you’re bored making it, then probably your learner will be bored taking the course. Try to build something more compelling for your learners.
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