A challenge for youIf you are of the e-Learning faithful, I expect none of my arguments below will persuade you. So here’s an uncomfortable fact about my own department, that I expect is true of yours too.
Our colleagues in the business come to us for online learning only when they have to. We have dozens and dozens of e-Learning modules, built to a very high standard of learning content and immersive interactivity. But the only ones that get high user numbers are the mandatory ones.
If this is true in your company, then there’s something wrong with the resources that you’re providing. The industry has sold you more and more ways to improve your content – PowerPoint conversion, synchronised narration, templates, enhanced interactions – and elective users stay away.
If I am wrong, if you organisation produces non-mandatory e-Learning modules that your colleagues proactively and enthusiastically seek out, then please get in touch. My boss will pay you for your secret sauce!
If not, then something is broken.
How did I get here?
- The site your users spend the most of their time on is somebody else’s, so your navigation and user interaction have to be simple and obvious, fitting the broadest best practice on the web
- Standards-compliant sites win - you want as many people as possible to use your site, right?
- Links and URLs are core elements of the web - sites that freely link to other sites provide a richer and more valuable experience for the user
- All the great sites respect these rule of the web - Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Amazon - even (to a degree) Facebook
- Content is King
e-Learning software - what do we need?I'm hard at work in our e-Learning department, not commissioning or authoring courses, but devising an approach to update our course commissioning workflow and technology.
Back in June I blogged about some of the user research we commissioned. In the first part of this year, I also did a fair bit of research online into what the most effective learning material looks like. So I've recently been able to complete a vision document for the new product.
Next question: build-or-buy? Obviously it would be fun to build our own authoring tool, that does just exactly what we want. But if I'm honest, buying something off-the-shelf will be cheaper, much quicker and a great deal less risky. So lately I've investigated a large number of e-Learning authoring tools.
Page-oriented or Slide-oriented
- Outputting a Flash presentation
- Converting from PowerPoint
- The ability to play on iPads and Android tablets through special software or...
- Playout on iPads and Androids with HTML5
- Page-oriented: Consecutive pieces of content in the course load as separate web pages
- Slide-oriented: Consecutive pieces of content load as consecutive slides in a player, within a single page
Slide-oriented content is my description of content that emulates PowerPoint. I'm particularly concerned with e-Learning here, but it includes some other experience-based websites and even some corporate sites.
A deep-seated mindset
- You have to control the user's learning journey - you can't allow them to visit any slide (or page) in any order.
- Keeping all your content within a slide container is somehow 'immersive' - re-loading a web page would break the spell.
- e-Learning content is not web content - it's something different, with different rules.
- PowerPoint is a really great model for online learning.
The first two of these are exploded by all the best websites out there. Think of any website you love - it allows you to browse from page to page, unconstrained. And those pages re-load in your web browser - they don't seamlessly re-load in some container within the page. (OK I'm sure someone will identify a determined exception.)
Why do you keep coming back? Because you can find what you want easily, go where you please, and because someone emailed you a great link to some really great content - just that little bit there that's really interesting/funny/relevant, not the start of a 10-minute presentation to wade through. Maybe it piqued your interest and you checked out the rest of the site. Maybe it didn't.
That's how the internet works. It's been pretty successful.
But e-Learning content isn't a website, and it follows different rules. Really? Here are the best and biggest e-Learning sites I know: Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Khan Academy. All of them follow page-oriented, not slide-oriented design.
Do you use Wikipedia? Do you find it off-putting when the page re-loads - does it break your learning spell? Would it be more powerful if it forced you to read the whole page in order, before moving on to the next page of its, not your, choosing? Those seem to be the priorities of the e-Learning industry, in contravention of everything we know about the web.
As to PowerPoint, I simply can't fathom why the industry considers it a great pedagogical model. Death by PowerPoint isn't just a saying - it was a key contributor to the Columbia shuttle disaster, killing seven astronauts on re-entry.
Flash is great, except when it sucks
Flash sucks for site navigation
Flash sucks for web content
...and Flash is dead - so it kinda sucks for the future
Empower the user
- Ditch the sausage-machine courses that force users to sit through every page, every video, every narration. It’s useless at ensuring the users take in all the material - our user research found that they simply turn off the volume and get on with their email. And it alienates casual users from trying the course at all.
- Need to ensure your users know the content? Test them at the end instead, with a challenging pass-mark. It doesn’t matter if they can pass the test without reading the course material - the point is to ensure they understand the content, not force them to sit through a lesson they already know.
- Drop Flash, and embrace the full vocabulary of the internet.
- And remember that Content is King. If you provide great learning resources, and pull down the barriers to accessing it, you users will come.
One intriguing alternative, and Google
What’s the bottom line?
- Flash e-Learning derived from PowerPoint alienates users…
- ...but it’s pretty much all the market provides
…just one more thing