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Designing Technology Enhanced Learning Objects

As an instructional designer, the task of creating quality training resources can be daunting. However, with greater access to technology based tools it is becoming easier to create learning resources; in particular technology enhanced learning objects.

What is a technology enhanced learning object?

To put it in simple words, a technology enhanced learning object is:

  • (a) A chunk of content structured to support learning delivered using available technology.
  • (b) Electronic content designed to be reused within different instructional settings.

Technology enhanced learning objects can be used for content delivery, instructional activities and assessment.

What are the key elements of technology enhanced learning objects?

The basic principles of instructional design and user experience design apply to designing quality technology enhanced learning objects. The principles provide the foundation for the key elements, which include:

Objectivity

Technology enhanced learning objects must be aligned to a learning objective. Consider what skills and/or knowledge the learners will develop from the learning object. Develop the learning object so that these skills and/or knowledge can be developed.
For example, if you want learners to be able to recall information then flash cards could be used to deliver the content or a simple drag and drop could be used to apply the information.

Excitability

Learners should want to use the learning object. There should be an emotional connection with the object that excites the learner, making them want to explore its contents.
For example, providing an engaging introduction that highlights the importance of safety before an object related to health and safety.

Interactivity

To engage learners they need to be able to interact with the object. The advantage of technology enhanced learning objects is that they can be layered, allowing the learner to explore further information, and they can provide immediate feedback to the learner. Interactive learning objects also allow the learner to practice skills they would use in the workplace, not just learn the theory behind them.

For example, A scenario based learning object which allows a learner to apply their knowledge on a challenge, receiving feedback on the choices that were made.

Usability

The technology enhanced learning object should provide a positive user experience. Learners need to be able to easily use the object. This usability should apply across all devices, so learning objects need to be responsive.
For example, navigation should be clear and easy to use on all devices.

Reusability

Technology enhanced learning objects need to be reusable. That is, the object must be able to function in different instructional contexts.
For example, a quiz game could be used in a traditional classroom setting or as part of an online course.

Interoperability

The learning objects need to be interoperable. That is, the object can be freely transferred to different delivery platforms. The learning object should be able to operate independently of the delivery media or learning management system.

For example, the learning object could be embedded into a digital publication, viewed on a tablet device, or placed in an e-learning module, delivered through an LMS.
For more information on interoperability see the e-standards for training website.

Accessibility

Technology enhanced learning objects need to be accessible to all learners. This means the content is accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities, such as vision impaired, hearing impaired, learning disabilities, cognitive or physical limitations, speech disabilities or a combination of these.

For more information on accessibility see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0

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Superb Learning is Story Based

Once upon a time, stories were used to teach. They were used to deliver powerful meaning and messages. They were fables, bedtime stories and fairy tales. Stories were told around a campfire or more recently, read in a gripping novels or watched in an engaging animation or film. In today’s learning environment, programs can be “massive data dumps” ignoring the value and impact of a good story. Learners are exposed to massive amounts of disengaging content that they can’t connect to. They end up unable to see why and how the content applies to them or their jobs.

“Stories have the ability to encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context and emotion.” (Norman, 1993)

That is why you will remember your favourite bedtime story as a child yet struggle to remember what you did at work on Monday. So how do stories improve the outcomes and returns of your training material?

When you use stories as part of your training:

  •  It grabs and retains learner attention
  •  The learning becomes fun as opposed to meeting a list of objectives
  •  It establishes the content flow and engages learners at every point
  •  Learners will remember the concepts covered in the course as they always remember a good story
Because stories communicate best practices and behaviours in a specific context, learners will have a better chance of understanding what you are trying to teach and how they can use that knowledge appropriately. In short, a story contains elements that appeal both to your head and heart — that’s why they work!
 
What can you do to improve the quality of stories in your training?

  •  Provide plenty of opportunities for your learners to tell their story during your training. Telling their story allows them to consider how what you are teaching applies to them.
  •  Use scenarios and allow opportunities for your learners to practise what you are teaching. Give them options to choose from allowing them to see the consequences of their choices
  •  Use examples of other people that have applied your teachings and succeeded
  •  Ensure the technology you are using effectively highlights and priorities storytelling
  •  Practise your stories and make sure they are relevant, entertaining and appealing. Just because you are using stories doesn’t guarantee you are using them to their full potential.
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Six easy design tips for your e-learning project

Yes I admit it, I am one of those people that loves it when a new update comes out on the latest piece of software, or when a new online product is created that will make my online experience a little easier. My personal preference is to research the latest trend then to sit and watch TV. I look around at people who don’t love technology and I want to tell them how much they are missing out on. However, I do understand that just because someone uses the latest and greatest technology, doesn’t necessarily mean that the product at the end is any better. One of my favourite quotations about technology and tools is: 

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Getting the design right

I have been developing e-learning for many years now. I still remember creating some of my first online resources with Macromedia Dreamweaver and screen recording with Captivate CS3, and I remember when PowerPoint became popular. Everyone thought it was fantastic and presentations had objects flying in and out, words zooming in one letter at a time, and many other distractions that had you shaking your head. I learnt very quickly that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The priority for people new to e-learning is figuring out the programmes not the principles for designing with them. This isn’t just a dilemma for new e-learning developers but the industry as a whole. We can all get caught up in the latest shiny thing and design with a programme in mind rather than what we are trying to achieve. I might get a tad too excited when I learn about a new system, but I consider myself an instructional designer before an e-learning developer.  Get the design right and it doesn’t matter what programme you use.

Top design tips for your e-learning projects

Here are some of the basic design principles I use when putting together an e-learning project:

  1. Don’t forget the reason you are designing your e-learning in the first place. Improving the performance of the learner should be your number one priority. Spend some time with a pen and notepad and consider what you want your learner to be able to do by designing your e-learning without considering the limitations of your programme. You can always think of alternatives later rather than limit your thinking at this point.

  2. Consider ways to evaluate what they have learnt. Try and think beyond multiple choice questions. Multiple choice is an easy option because e-learning development software makes it easy to design. There were plenty of other ways people evaluated in face-to-face sessions before the invention of e-learning, consider how these could apply in the online world. Things like participation, critical thinking, and contributions were all factors that ultimately told the trainers that their learners were engaged. This can be measured in e-learning, you just need to open your mind. Also, consider how you can gather the evaluation. e-learning programmes have a rich and vast collection of data that can be used. What data are you collecting and why?

  3. One of the best things about e-learning compared to face-to-face is consistency. You might have the best material, but if the trainer isn’t that good, the entire course will be affected. E-learning makes the user experience consistent and much more guided. You are in control of what they are going to learn, it’s much more than just the content. Your ability to entertain, excite, engage will influence how and what they learn. Be passionate about giving your learners an experience – not just content that they could probably source on a company page or the internet.

  4. Use stories. Do you remember how, in a face-to-face session after the trainer presented a bunch of theories and text, they would tell you about an example of how that theory was applied in a situation and was successful? After the story you were able to understand the context of what you were learning. We forget this simple principle in e-learning time and time again. Developers get so caught up in the content that they forget how people make connections and learn.

  5. Make sure you are using relevant materials and examples. I remember developing a workplace health and safety module once for personal trainers. I was told to use the generic workplace health and safety material that used hospital examples and context. It was the same general information that would be required regardless of the workplace, but I knew the learners would be completing the module and thinking to themselves, this information does not apply to meI just need to get though it and pass the test. Would you prefer your personal trainer to pass the test or actually think that WHS is relevant to him or her?

  6. If you’re bored as you are designing your e-learning then so will your learners be. People can only look at a computer screen for so long and retain a certain amount of information. We know this in face-to-face sessions, which is why it is always so important to give learners breaks and activities and plan for each session to be no longer than 20 minutes long. Apply the same principles to your e-learning and make sure it is bite sized.

Need a hand?

Superb Learning is very happy to offer some advice if you are struggling to pull it all together.

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eLearning is Missing the Target

The other week I was exposed to a Health & Safety eLearning induction course. It was terrible! 35 slides of only text. I could not progress from one slide to the next until the obligatory 15 second delay (which is surprisingly long when bored). This was followed by a 20 question multiple choice quiz (MCQ) that my 9 year old daughter could have completed. It contained the typical MCQ format of one correct answer and other answers that were clearly wrong, which can be answered with some common sense and no need to read the content.

For example: The toaster in the lunch room has something stuck in it preventing it from operating. Do you
a) Leave it for someone else to notice the problem.
b) Try and remove the item with a knife.
c) Switch off the appliance, place a note on it and report the problem. The quiz also required an 80% pass mark, which made me think “what 20% of the content didn’t matter?”.

Reviewing this course has only reinforced my beliefs that so much eLearning content has missed the target. Too often we are seeing the typical next, next, yawn… style course (text on a screen click next, followed by a MCQ to make sure you read what we told you). There are so many missed opportunities to build engaging resources, the opportunity to provide an eLearning resource that encourages social collaboration, that allows users to pull content they need rather than having it pushed at them. With the range of technologies available we can create rich interactive scenarios, that allow users to try concepts, apply their knowledge and learn from their mistakes.

Technology is available to immerse the learners in visually rich virtual environments. We can engage users with games, stories and great visuals. We have the power to track user engagement, to evaluate effectiveness and ROI. But we aren’t. The target of eLearning excellence is continually missed.

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The target should be on the learning objectives – the educational outcomes.

So why? Why are we continuing to develop dull content? What are people not understanding about how to develop engaging online content?

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Engaging learners with interactive video

Video is a powerful learning tool, yet it is often underutilised. The popularity of YouTube (with more than 1 billion unique users each month and over 6 billion hours of video watched during this time) and other video sites, such as Vimeo and TED Talks, highlights how people are engaged when consuming knowledge through video. Video provides a multi-sensory resource, where people can learn by listening, watching and sometimes reading. And now, the use of video in learning is even more powerful with the use of interactive video to provide another way for users to engage. Interactive video increases the learning experience by providing learners with the opportunity to interact with the video content. Videos can be made interactive where learners can choose the small chunk of content they want to watch, they could choose a path to take based on the scenario provided in the video. Quizzes can even be embedded into the video, allowing for a knowledge check to occur before progressing further. In addition to all of this, the videos play natively in modern browsers and across devices, including tablets and handhelds. So what are the tools required to create the interactive videos? Below is my run down on four of the best applications (in no particular order) that I have tested so far.

1. Klynt

Klynt (http:www.klynt.net) is a very straight forward, easy to use application. Users can upload a selection of their videos and using the mind map like storyboard, can connect the videos together. Hyperlinks can then be applied to the primary screen, which links to the other videos. An example of this can be seen in the Klynt Demo. Klynt has a responsive HTML5 player that can be embedded in a browser or other applications. It also has the ability to add detailed analytics to measure the effectiveness of your video project. Of the three applications, Klynt has the most affordable pricing option, with a free 14 day trial demo version, a lite edition for a one-time fee of $199 and the pro edition for a one-time fee of $599. Klynt also has the least amount of features, compared to the other two programs. If you are interested in checking out Klynt, view their range of tutorials here.

2. Rapt Media

Rapt Media (http://www.raptmedia.com/) also has an easy to use drag-and-drop authoring platform. As with Klynt, Rapt Media allows you to link between videos allowing users to choose their own path. A great example of this is Deloitte’s interactive recruitment video. Rapt Media has a one-click publishing function, allowing you to publish your video to multiple devices easily. Rapt Media is also cloud-based, giving you easy access to your interactive video files from any internet-enabled device. While Rapt Media has a slicker interface and output than Klynt, it does come at a cost with one quote I received for an entry level account starting at $550/month. There is a free account which you can start building and testing your videos. If you are interested in checking out Rapt Media, view their range of how-tos and tips.

3. HapYak

HapYak (http://corp.hapyak.com/) has a large amount of features but it is not as easy to use as Klynt or Rapt Media. It also differs by linking to video files stored elsewhere, rather than uploading the video files to the application. This tool allows you to link to video files hosted on streaming sites (such as YouTube) or hosted on your own website. It has a range of tools including the ability to build video chapters, hyperlinks in videos and the ability to draw on the video – to point out important details to learners. My favourite function of this tool is the quiz function. Multiple choice quizzes can be built into the video o pop-up over the video screen at pre-determined times, to provide an opportunity to assess understanding of the video content. The quiz results can also be integrated with an LMS. A great example of this can be seen in chapter 2 of this video. Hap Yak is also a cheaper option than Rapt Media, with a free plan (up to 5 interactive videos) and a professional plan of $100/month. If you are interested in checking out HapYak, view their Getting Started Guide.

4. ChatMapper

ChatMapper is an easy to use tol for creating branching dialogues and other non-linear training resources. It is built using an intuitive tree graph, with different nodes showing the branches of the dialogue. This tool can be used in the creation of interactive scenario based videos, where the users make decisions and various points. Each node can be set to branch off to another video file, or a specific time in the existing video file. ChatMapper is a freemium product. It has a free version with limited functionality. Paid licensing options ($65 and $495) are also available. A fully functional publisher licence (incorporating 3D avatars) is also available. Use can see full details on the features and pricing on the ChatMapper website. Enjoy playing with the interactive video.

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5 things to consider when using media for digital learning

Selecting the right media for digital learning can be a real puzzle. It’s a media puzzle. (You might not get that reference right now but keep reading and you will). The puzzle exists because there is just too many options and it is easy to be swayed by something pretty and shiny.

So what is media? What are we talking about? Media can include (but not limited to) images/graphics of people, places and things; avatars, both 2D and 3D; audio/sound including voice over, podcasts, sound effects and music; videos and animations. Before you select your media, here are the 5 key things you need to consider:

1. Learner experience – What do you want them to achieve by viewing your media? Is it possible with what you selected?

To solve your e-Learning media puzzle, you must consider who your learners are and the outcomes you want them to achieve. If your media doesn’t fit, don’t use it. I’m sure you have all come across media in e-Learning that doesn’t work properly, poor quality and frankly a little confusing. If the image you really want needs to be stretched out of proportion to fit, don’t use it.  You need to select media that achieves the outcomes you want, not because you are whetted to a particular image or video or design concept. (I must have a video every second page)

“If the picture you really want needs to be stretched out of proportion to fit, don’t use it.”

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If you stretch images in your e-Learning courses, your learners will notice. Find an alternative.

If you stretch images in your e-Learning courses, your learners will notice. Find an alternative.[/caption]

Do you choose an Image or video for your learning? Video is probably one of the best types of media for digital learning as it has audio and visual elements which can be engaging and break up text. But be careful, depending on where your learners are viewing your videos, they can have issues with poor internet capability or low bandwidth where the video does not play or continues to buffer. This kind of negative learning experience is going to have a detrimental effect. Make sure you know who your learners are and if this is an issue for them, cut down your video usage. For example a low cost and low fuss alternative could be a labelled graphic or pointing out elements on a screen shot when explaining a key piece of equipment.

2. Relevance – You might see the connection between what you are teaching and your media selection, but do your learners?

When searching for media to incorporate into your digital learning make sure your selection is relevant to your learners.    I always talk about how I used to use an image of a racehorse in my training. The training was about the relevance of imagery, and the image was selected because I know many people would see the relevance of the image. It’s the same picture below, a picture of a racehorse that won the 2002 Melbourne Cup called Media Puzzle. So there was a definite relevance between the content, talking about the media puzzle and the imagery of the horse Media Puzzle. I understand that with my background in racing I have that connection and it’s relevant to me but I’m not the learner and using an image that is not relevant to the learners has no impact. You need to consider how relevant the image is to the learner. If the media does not have any impact on the learner than it is pointless.

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If I hadn’t pointed out the connection between the media puzzle and horse racing, would you have understood the relevance?

3. Accessibility – Will your media for e-Learning allow everyone to access it?

An advantage of e-Learning over a face to face training course is it’s accessibility by people you might not otherwise be able to reach. Ironically, e-Learning isn’t always accessible if designed only for people who have no disabilities. Disabilities requirements can be broad but some of the basic limitations your learners might have include hearing, sight and mobility restrictions. When solving your media puzzle consider how your media selection can be accessible to learners with these restrictions. How can your media be used in another way to make it more accessible? For example a video as part of an e-Learning resource is not accessible to people with visual disabilities so make sure provide a transcript. Closed captioning can be created for people with hearing disabilities. Images should have alternative text that provides a relevant description of the image so that screen readers are able to provide an accurate description.

4. Technical limitations – Does your learner have the knowledge and computer systems to support your e-Learning?

I remember a self confessed ICT developer and enthusiast once told me that she had to remind herself that not everyone gets as excited about system updates as she does. She would roll out the latest and greatest update and be totally astounded when her customers would ring and complain. They seemed to prefer the old way and didn’t like the fact that they had to learn a new way even though it was an improvement. Why aren’t they as excited as she is? Not everyone has strong technological knowldege or updated computer systems that can run the latest and greatest technology.

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Not everyone is keeping up with the latest trends in technology. In fact they aren’t even keeping up with old trends.

When selecting media for e-Learning, keep in mind learners’ technical requirements and limitations. Will they be able to listen the course, or will they be utilizing the course in on-the-job learning environments? Are you using media elements that may be too advanced for some computers or that some devices are unable to run? Alternatively, are you using media elements that are not supported by some computers or devices, for example Flash not being supported on mobile devices, IOS operating systems and through the Firefox browser. Also, you’ll want to consider whether or not your audience is tech-savvy. Will learners be able to navigate through the eLearning course easily with the multimedia elements you’ve added?

5. Size – Does size really matter?

The size of the media files (images, video and audio) can have an impact on the download or streaming of your eLearning content, especially when the learners have issues with internet connectivity or limited bandwidth.

When it comes to images, the smaller the size, the better. Low resolution images (fewer than 100 pixels per square inch – 96ppi & 72ppi are the most common) are appropriate for use in eLearning and online materials. High resolution (greater than 300 ppi) are generally used for print resources and will have a larger file size. Size is also related to the file format. Use images that are JPG (or JPEG), GIF or PNG. All of these file formats keep file sizes very low by compressing the file and/or by reducing the number of colours in the image. Also consider the size of the audio and video files. Video files in MPEG 4 format (also known as MP4) (H.264 codec) are widely used (including recommended file format for YouTube videos) as they are displayable on a number of devices and browsers and can be of a smaller file size than other video formats (such as AVI, MOV, WMV). Audio files should be on MP3 format. This is an audio-specific file format that is designed to reduce the amount of data required to represent audio recording. .WAV is another common audio format (it is the file type that most simple computer-based audio recorders will produce), however this format, if uncompressed, creates a large file size making sharing online unpractical.

Some key questions to ask yourself when selecting the media includes:

  • Is the media relevant to the learner, content and context?
  • How will students that do not have access to technology to view this media be supported?
  • If learners are bringing their own device how this is impact on the media you’re using?
  • How long is it going to take you to develop the media?
  • Does the development time relate to the benefit? What could you do quickly and easily?
  • Is the medium effective? Does it help students learn content better?
  • Is the medium accessible?
  • Does it suit the technology of the learners?
  • Are my images, audio or video files of an appropriate size?