The Problem with eLearning – Does well developed content make a difference in long-term memory?
One of the challenges of eLearning content development is ensuring that all courses created are engaging. Unfortunately, words often used to describe internally created training include dry, boring, and sometimes even painful. When organizations develop internal eLearning content, their focus is often on getting the information across in the most cost effective manner possible in order to ensure that their people have access to the information they need. However, this often results in a poor learner experience. Common tools used for eLearning content development include software programs like PowerPoint, Articulate, Lectora, and Captivate. Most of them are excellent tools for turning raw information into an online deliverable format.
When using many off the shelf or readily available software programs and rapid elearning content development tools to create training courses for internal use, organizations tend to add slides, questions, and perhaps a few activities that are rudimentary and peppered with clip art. There is little effort put into ensuring that the material is interesting and engaging. This results in thousands of users logging into a Learning Management System (LMS) and taking hours of painfully dry and boring online training. It is not surprising to hear that retention of this type of online training is low. The question is: how do you make the content more interesting and engaging?
If organizational leaders take the opportunity to step back and look at the most pervasive and heavily used methods of information sharing, they would realize that they are competing with Youtube, TV commercials, movie trailers, and iPhone apps. These types of communication are what people are used so it is not surprising that clip art ridden training bores them. Imagine the headlines: “An alarming discovery has just been made. Eyewitness reports have confirmed that numerous employees are ruthlessly being subjected to insipid clipart presentations under the disguise of training material. Research has revealed that many of these clipart style presentations have side effects including reduction in reflex speed, mental fatigue, and, in some cases, unconsciousness.”
It’s in the best interest of organizations to invest in better internal online content development or outsource the online content development to organizations that specialize in it. Very few companies believe that it is wise to invest in a full production studio or to have a department of in-house developers ready to support eLearning content development, so outsourcing is often a much better option. There are organizations, like BIS Training and Development (www.trainanddevelop.ca), that specialize in developing online content. They spend time sourcing great voiceover talent, adding detail to the course design, and adding interactive elements to ensure the training is easy to understand and enjoyable to complete.
Some keys to great eLearning content development include adding narration to supplement text and adding interactive exercises to address all three learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Some people are able to learn new information easily as they hear it. Others learn best when they can read information at their own pace. There are also those who just need to try things out themselves to fully understand them. By combining voiceover narration, online video, flash elements, and interactive animations, it is possible to cater to all three learning styles in any online course.
The next evolution of eLearning content development is presenting the information in a way that gets the learners interested. This is an art, but it is possible to systematically develop more interesting and more engaging online training. A book by Dan and Chip Heath titled Made to Stick does a brilliant job of explaining the principles and practices around making information more memorable which can be applied to online learning content. They share compelling stories about the wildly successful Popcorn ad was which was developed by Art Silverman in efforts to expose how shockingly unhealthy the popcorn was in movie theatres. There was over 37 grams of saturated fat in each serving which is not a memorable message on its own, but the ad that CSPI developed was designed to make it memorable in the minds of their target audience.
This ad reads, “A medium-sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighbourhood movie theatre contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings — combined!” it was so memorable and made such and impact that it was immediate sensation featured on NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. It was in many of the major papers and on talk shows like Leno and Letterman. The way Art Silverman changed “37 grams of saturated fat” to something shocking, interesting, and memorable that all these news papers and news stations replayed the ad for free, was nothing short of genius. The book Made to Stick shares insights that can be used to make online learning content more interesting and more memorable. This critically important for many organizations as some online training includes safety procedures or safety policies. This is not material that should be developed in easily forgotten format as lives may depend on it!