A Christmas Carol of e-learning development

Chapter One

The Spirit of Christmas Plagiarism

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little blog, to raise the Ghost of an Idea …*

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, 2012 is the year of Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday. Part of his enduring celebrity is due to modern readers being able to relate to themes discussed almost two centuries ago. Tiny Tim going hungry at Christmas still tugs on the heartstrings, while Pip’s love/hate relationship with Estella wouldn’t seem out of place on Eastenders. One of the most recognisable parts of A Christmas Carol is Scrooge’s unwilling journey of self discovery by looking at his past, present and future – I think we can all gain some insight by taking a step back and examining where we’re going and where we came from.

So, with my nightcap firmly in place (and no sign of the Muppets), let me persuade you to take a well-earned break from your mince pies and I’ll take you on a journey through the spectres of e-learning past, present and future …

Self-examination

 Self examination – is it always a jolly affair?

Chapter Two

Click to Continue’s ghost and the haunted present.

Looking back on some of the earliest e-learning courses, it’s hard not to laugh at the rudimentary ‘interactions’ and dull narration. We’ve come a long way from clicking to continue on every page, or from thinking that a clip art course guide is the best way to engage learners.

But the scary part is that some of these elements haven’t yet been stamped out. In an age where nearly all of us use a computer, is it really necessary to have an instruction page detailing how to use an online course? I think most of us can work out that clicking the sound icon will turn the audio on, and that the home button will take us to the homepage – after all, these mirror the websites, games and applications that we use every day.

Another element that I feel is stuck in the past is the linear structure of a lot of e-learning courses. In our ‘on-demand’ society, we are used to being able to pick and choose the information that we need, whether that’s from YouTube tutorials or Wikipedia. So why do we ask learners to trawl through content that they may already be familiar with so that they can get to the part that interests them? Sometimes it’s because the project sponsor wants their employees to cover everything on a topic, but I still think there are better ways around this. Instead of having module one working through to module five, how about letting the learner choose what they do first? That way users can focus on their priorities, which is more efficient for the business as essential skills can be learnt more quickly, and learners are less likely to lose patience with the course.

Chapter Three

Look to the future, it’s only just begun?

“Ghost of the Future,” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good … I am prepared to bear you company.”

Once again, A Christmas Carol hits the nail on the head. The future is frightening. How are we going to make use of all this new technology (which is constantly evolving) without looking gimmicky? How can we keep e-learning fresh and exciting? But the race to keep up with innovation is definitely a good thing for us – it pushes us to new limits of design and structure, and will lead to bigger and better e-learning.

One trend that is currently doing the rounds is ‘gamification’ (for more on this, see Alex’s earlier blog). Although some project sponsors may be sceptical of the educational value of game based learning, I think that we’re more than able to respond to a format that truly allows users to take control. If you consider how many button combinations and complicated tactics users of Skyrim learn during the course of a game, I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to imagine we can use that enjoyment driven learning in an online course. In fact, we’re currently working on a Bribery Act e-learning ‘game’ which will be showcased at this year’s LT Show, which uses branching scenarios to create a ‘choose your own adventure’ style progression. Bad choices have in-game consequences, which is much more enjoyable and therefore potentially more effective than the standard ‘That’s not quite right …’

So let’s learn from our past, keep an eye on what we can make use of in the present, and aim for a truly engaging e-learning future.

Merry Christmas to all!

 Okay, maybe I lied about there being no Muppets in this blog …

 *All quotes in italics from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

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About the author

Claire England - Instructional designer and Project lead

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