As teachers and other learning professionals will often tell you, imparting information to students is one thing, but to get them to remember and then apply it is a whole different ball game. So how do we achieve this holy grail of learning? It all comes down to the way information is retrieved and processed.
The means of acquiring and processing information that the brain uses depend on how it is stimulated. This means that it’s important to recognise which brain mechanism is appropriate for the type of training you want to deliver. Here are some top tips for delivering a learning innovation that changes behaviour on a fast-acting, intuitive level:
1. Make them fail
We’re not saying set impossible challenges that will demotivate your learners and cause them to lose confidence; this would be counter-productive. Instead, set a challenge appropriate to the learning objectives and ability of your learners. Science writer Annie Murphie Paul has observed that learners need to solve problems on their own in order to embed the learning. Learning through problem solving will also build the synaptic structures necessary to transfer learning from the procedural (or automated) response, to the intuitive/emotional response. By interacting directly with the learning activity, learners will be jolted out of passivity, into the emotionally engaged learners you want them to be. Which brings us to our next tip…
2. Get emotional
The brain is incredibly efficient at filtering out extraneous information to focus on the job in hand. So good in fact, that we can often miss the most obvious cues. For a great example of this, check out this short video. So how do we take selective attention in to account when designing a learning intervention? The best way is to elicit an emotional response from your audience – tell a story, show a video, show photos. Dry facts won’t always resonate, but show a relevant image or story and it will embed.
3. Induce the ‘fear factor’
You can even increase this effect by evoking a negative emotional experience. Use this power of error to increase learner focus and engagement in a way that isn’t self-critical by asking learners to spot the mistakes of others. This approach is often easier than self-correction. With these ideas in mind, ask learners to interact by clicking on mistakes when they see someone committing them. Instilling the ‘fear factor’ can be a positive learning technique, as learners are more likely to remember what they have learnt if they can associate their errors with the memory of someone else correcting them. The resulting reaction will have a far greater chance mental imprinting and thus embedding the elearning. The reason emotional learning gets cognitive attention is because it ignores the semantic, entering directly instead in to the episodic memory centres where more complex and interwoven brain structures reside. The strong mental representations formed here result in faster emotional responses, rather than slower, rational ones. The end result? Lasting behavioural change.
4. Learn over time
Learning doesn’t happen overnight and neither does neural pathway building. The true measure of learning effectiveness is measured in the long term, not just the short. A student may pass an exam, but test them 2 or 3 months later and you’ll see they haven’t retained what they’ve learned. To have an impact, the neural pathways must become well trodden. On the biological level, this builds stronger links that will eventually override the previously ingrained and proceduralised responses that we’re trying to retrain. So when designing a learning intervention, plan for more frequent, smaller sessions – 20 minutes is ideal. Also, when planning the learning objectives for each of these sessions, bear in mind that the average human brain can only recall 5-6 independent items (this is why telephone numbers were initially designed to include only 6 digits).
5. Make it relevant
This may seem obvious, but it can so easily be over-looked, especially when the commercial imperative is to provide as much information as possible. If the learning is not meaningful and directly applicable, the brain will not encode it. Therefore always relate the content to your audience. By connecting the learning to the real world, the learner will be more likely to form a bond, and the information will be more likely to stick. A great way to transfer the information from the elearning environment to the working environment is to take a blended approach. Create a programme that utilises the full breadth of training tools available. A classroom component, and on the job activities can be especially useful when combined with elearning.
So there you have it; next time you’re planning your content for a course, consider the neuro-scientific basis for how we learn. By considering these tips in your instruction design, you are more likely to deliver training that is memorable and instils the desired behaviour change.
On seeing a link with the title ‘Ribbon Hero 2’, I thought it was an app which would spam all my friends. But the moment I saw Clippy’s Second Chance, I knew it was something related to Microsoft Office.
Clippy (an animated paperclip who was one of the Office Assistants included in Microsoft Office 97) had helped me with tips and tricks when I first started learning the software. When I downloaded the game and saw that, as the story unfolds, Clippy is in need of some help, I thought I should return the favour.
Learning Microsoft Office is not exactly the most fun thing to do, but as I played the game, I saw that there were three main elements which kept me glued to the screen. I thought I’d share them, as each one helps us understand how we can gamify systems training to get better user engagement:
1. Leveling up
The first interesting thing about the game was the different levels it had to offer as I completed tasks. Each level was designed differently, and you get to explore each level, with challenges you have to complete before you move up.
People using a new system may have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or don’t want to do things in a certain way, and to overcome those feelings we have to reinforce learning with strong, simple motivators. Levels are everything in gaming: enabling learners to recognise their own progress through incremental accomplishments is vital to sustaining interest.
So how about renaming your modules as ‘levels’? It’s a lot more satisfying to know that you have reached level five, rather than starting yet another module! Also, remember to include scenarios (like Clippy’s story!) which explain WHY they should be doing this. Every organisation has an interest in people knowing how to use their software better, so involve learners in a different scenario during each level that explains those benefits.
2. The ‘What You See Is What You Get’ factor
The tasks in Ribbon Hero 2 were beautifully overlaid over the software and hints help you overcome the hurdles. Since everything happens ‘in-application’ there was nothing left to my imagination: I knew what I had seen and how to use it in real time. There is something addictive about a realistic environment because it lights up neural connections which already exist, so the detailed graphics used in games help players feel truly engaged (especially when the game is about something that could ‘happen’ in real life).
It’s really important that systems training replicates this by including real screenshots and, most importantly, real and believable data. The success which Saffron had with Hilton International when we developed system simulations to capture and replicate every function of the system was partially because of the WYSIWYG factor.
3. Performance indicators
The game progresses based on a variable number of points awarded for each task. For example, if you don’t use the tips for a task you get the maximum points. And, focussed on winning points and level ups during the game, unwittingly I was mastering the features of the software.
These performance indicators are not difficult to build into elearning – it’s all part of giving learners strong and positive feedback when they complete tasks successfully. In systems training, we have additional scope to use devices like countdown timers and optional tips, which contribute towards variable points for the same task. This variety gives learners an extra incentive to apply more brain power than they usually would to a task!
As Sara Faulkner, from the Office Labs team, says, based on early usage data, we know that 60% of Ribbon Hero users who completed two challenges then went on to play all ten, and 80% of users agreed with the statement that Ribbon Hero is a ‘great way to get familiar with the new version of Office’. User feedback like ‘I learned three new tasks in just five minutes’ and ‘I feel that I have learned quite a lot about Office’ also demonstrates the success of the game.
What did you think of Ribbon Hero 2: Clippy’s Second Chance? Did you play it at the time, and if so, would you recommend it as a training tool? I’d be interested to find out what you think.
More and more often, a website is part of the blend for a successful change campaign. The most obvious example is a learning programme which engages with a wide, public, audience. This will require a place to host elearning which also performs a few other functions: links to resources, news updates and contact details. A website is the logical solution.
Websites are also invaluable for internal campaigns if you need to host a repository of resources and make it easily searchable. This is particularly important when users will be accessing learning resources on a bitesize basis, as and when they need them, rather than completing an hour of elearning. Most companies nowadays create portals on large and complex topics, like diversity, sustainability and leadership, for example.
Above all, websites are great when you have a clear call to action that you want to build a community or movement around. An effective site allows you to gather pledges of support, and it also makes it easy to gather comments and drive social sharing.
It’s more than likely that you’ll be involved in building a learning website of some kind in 2014. To help, the Saffron team has drawn on its hard-earned experience to put together 10 tips for building a learning website in a reasonable timeframe… and on a reasonable budget!
1. Decide on the content first
You need to understand more or less exactly what is going on the website before you start thinking about the technology or the design. If there’s lots of content to be created, get your production line in place before you even consider the build. Make sure to have a complete site map before starting the wireframes and the mock-ups. Otherwise, don’t expect anything meaningful from your graphic designer!
2. What’s your call to action?
To make sense of your content, you need to understand what the user is expected to do as a result of visiting your website. Do they need to access a resource, submit some details, or share with others? Understanding the potential call to actions will give you an understanding of the structure and scope of the site and its supporting technologies. The more potential actions, the more difficult the build will be.
3. Use an open source CMS
Just as Moodle provides provides a great starting point for an effective learning management system (and can be used ‘out of the box’ for hosting one or two courses), open source content management systems such as Drupal, Joomla and WordPress are the place to start for most website requirements. At Saffron we love WordPress! It’s extremely well-supported, and provides most of the admin functionality required ‘out-of-the-box’.
4. Buy a theme
For a project with a moderate budget, there really is no point in creating a bespoke theme when so many fantastic themes are available online. Themeforest.net is a huge repository to try out. There are free options, but for less than $60 you’ll find yourself in possession of a powerful set of templates to perform most of the key functions for your website. Get to know its features and how much can be customised from the front-end before you start producing mock-ups. Avoid custom development unless you absolutely have to!
5. Make it mobile responsive
If you want your website to reach the biggest audience, it’s inexcusable not to make it mobile optimised. Many WordPress themes are responsively designed straight out of the box, so it needn’t be a development challenge. But you also need to test your website with a smartphone. Does the flow make sense? Is your call to action clear?
6. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Once you know what you want the website to do, look for plugins or add-ons which are already available and suitable to your requirement! If you need to get people to sign-up to a mailing list, use a free service that generates the form for you, such as Mailchimp.
7. Create a pixel perfect website
For a polished and professional result, always apply the basic rules of typography to make the website look clean, professional, user friendly and easy to read. Make a clear distinction between the different areas of a page and follow the principles of Consistency, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Think usability before design, and you’ll be on the right path.
8. Follow accessibility standards
Make sure your website adheres to W3C accessibility guidelines, so it’s works available to screen-readers and to those with visual impairments. This includes including sensible alternative text for all images and allowing keyboard navigation. Following these standards will ensure a better user experience for everyone! Find out more here.
9. Don’t design it for yourself, design it for the audience
Your audience knows the websites they like and is familiar with how they work, so there’s no point in doing something that’s totally different. Reinventing the web is a risky business, so leave it to the professionals. Instead, ensure the design makes sense for a completely new visitor with very simple navigation. Every extra click required will lose your visitors, so avoid nested pages and menus.
10. And finally, don’t forget to…
- Turn off search engine indexing and restrict the website to your IP address whilst it’s in development, – you don’t want others to view your website before it’s complete.
- Be aware of the latest technology on the market (e.g.: responsive, retina display) but also make sure it is compatible with old technology (Internet Explorer 6, 1024X768 resolution.
- Make sure to have smart keywords in your metatags for the best Google results.
- Give meaningful names to pages and URLs to avoid confusion when you want to edit it after few months.
Hopefully these tips have made your learning website idea less daunting and more like any other learning technology project. And, of course, many of the same tips apply to building a simple smartphone app. So what change are you hoping to achieve with a website? We’d love to hear about your next project.
Happy Easter everyone!
To coincide with Ragnarok, the predicted Viking apocalypse, on 22 February 2014 (along with Viking events up and down the country) Saffron Interactive asked leading members of the learning and development community to tell us what they thought (or hoped) would be wiped out in 2014.
At Learning Technologies 2014, contributors including Don Taylor, John Curran, Sam Taylor and Jon Kennard answered our call and recorded short, ‘vox-pop’ videos to heap curses upon pet-hates and prophesy feasting at an L&D Valhalla… Want to contribute your own? Get in touch at email@example.com
Does a good-looking course qualify as good quality? What about an ordinary course that brings about great behavioural change? I’m sure the argument can be extended to both sides. But my argument is to take the middle-path (very Buddha-like indeed, except I see no chance of Nirvana!).
As instructional designers, our primary responsibility is to bring about behavioural change, thereby, hopefully, also providing sufficient return on investment for our clients. At the same time, most of us are also looking to maximize our profits. So we need to strike a perfect balance between a good product that does not exceed budgets and a product that gets the job done: in short, the minimum we can do to get the maximum.
Where does that leave quality? Out in the open, in some cases, I’m afraid. If the client is happy, and we get our money, we seem to think of it as a job well done. Now, here comes the middle-path bit (let it not be said I didn’t warn you!)… that’s not enough! As conscientious professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure that we provide a learning experience that the learner can enjoy.
- Quality is not about quantity: more interactions do not make for better quality
- Visually stimulating products need to be backed up by well-thought out content chunks
A patient walks into the doctor’s chamber and advises the doctor on what line of treatment he would prefer. Alternatively, if you prefer scenario two, the farm owner walks into the office of the investment banker and advises him where he should invest the firm’s money.
If you think both are perfectly normal, then you may as well stop reading here – I’ve failed to make a point and there’s nothing more in this blog for you. However, if these two instances do strike you as a tad out of the ordinary, then I have a question for you: When it comes to instructional design, why is it that the clients often decide on what’s best?
Some instructional designers are quite happy to let a course go the way it is provided the client is happy. What’s wrong with that? Well, I’ve seen screens with visuals that make no sense, interactive screens with over 50 clicks that do not make one iota of difference to the outcome of the course, screens with amounts of text that would make even the great Leo Tolstoy cringe, and sentences that are longer and even more convoluted than this one!
Next time that you go to a business presentation, stop for a moment and take a look at how many people are typing away on smartphones or tablets whilst the speaker is talking. Is this evidence of a more active listener contribution and a higher level of efficiency, or of a short attention span? I’d suggest that this phenomenon isn’t because people are distracted by new technology, but instead that the audience participation in the group business presentation is changing. In my opinion, three of the main technologies responsible are:
- Smart Phones
It’s now possible to comment on #eventhashtags in real time, letting other people know what you’re listening to. But is this a good thing?
If my old head teacher were to give a talk during which devices were in constant use, he would probably complain about a device dependent society, and a lack of respect. The counter argument is that these devices actually increase learning by collating content more efficiently, allowing sharing with others and lead to a more active contribution than passive listening. Craig Taylor’s article makes the point that somebody taking notes with a pen and paper would not be frowned upon, so why is an iPad any different? Personally, I think that the truth is that technology has evolved faster than presentation etiquette has allowed for. Some business people may have been giving talks for decades, but the use of mobile devices for learning is a fairly new trend, and the impression of a listener looking distracted by a screen rather than being attentive is hard to shake. So I’ve come up with some guidelines to help reconcile these conflicts, and ensure that everyone gets the most out of presentations. For this entry I suggest the following tips for participants in talks, next week I will have tips for presenters!
- Remember why you went to the talk: Although new technologies have given an extra dimension to presentations, nothing beats the impact of fully engrossing yourself in what somebody is saying. You have taken your time to go and attend a talk, so try to only tweet and mind map when it’s necessary, and not just for the sake of it. If you wanted to follow the backchannel you could have stayed in the office!
- Respect the speaker: There is a degree of trust involved with letting these devices become a part of a presentation. Although a tablet is great for making notes, it’s up to the listener to make sure they don’t distract themselves with that quick game, email, app etc. Set a good example!
- Sometimes you just have to listen: I believe there are some times when you have to focus 100% on what somebody is saying. Devices divert some of your brain power, even if it’s only a fraction. So sometimes you need to put them away. I challenge anybody to absorb a lecture on quantum physics whilst paying anything less than full attention … It would also be difficult to grasp an emotive video clip, a tough question from the audience or a new concept without using your full concentration. Recognise these moments.
- Use technology to police your own behaviour: Think about how you can get the most out of your device whilst still listening. For example, just because it’s a “device down” period doesn’t mean you can’t set up a voice record on your phone before putting it down! (And no, that isn’t cheating, that’s being innovative). Or what about a tab on your phone with just the essential apps for presentations so you aren’t tempted to get side tracked? You could also use privacy and time locks on certain contacts to avoid the impulse to message friends - the options are endless.
- Moderation: Think about whether or not the contributions that you are making through your device are meaningful. If 5 people have already updated the #hashtag with a new speaker do you really need to do it as well? Also, if the presentation is available afterwards make notes that are relevant to you but don’t just copy content – this is a waste of time and attention.
What are people’s thoughts on this? Have behaviours really changed? Are people on the whole becoming bad listeners? Be sure to visit the Spicy Learning Blog next week for my top tips for presenters.
Clarity and legibility are essential in e-learning. Here are Saffron’s top tips on how to use some of the basic principles of typography not only to achieve legibility but also to bring interest and energy to your e-learning projects.
1. Create contrast
Always ensure that there’s a good contrast between the text and the background; never sacrifice legibility for aesthetic reasons. Contrast is also necessary to emphasise key points and focus the learner’s attention. This article describes the key principle of typographic contrast that every designer should know.
2. Build a hierarchy
Use typography to indicate the importance of the elements on the page. Have a strong and clear focal point and ensure that all other elements are arranged accordingly. Items that are logically connected should be grouped together, whereas elements that are not directly related should be arranged as separate entities.
3. Use a grid
Avoid random layouts by using a grid. This helps you to visually connect items with each other and achieve a more logical and structured layout. Mark Boulton describes how to use grid systems for web layouts in this article and although e-learning screens may require a simpler grid, similar principles can still be applied.
4. Allow space to breathe
Do not overcrowd the area with unnecessary elements. The blank area (‘white space’) is necessary to draw the learner’s attention to the key content and make the text easier to read. Create white space by increasing the leading (line height) and by maintaining clear margins around text and graphics.
5. Be consistent
Make sure your use of typography is consistent across all screens and if you are using a grid then make sure you use the same one throughout. Each screen of your course should provide a look that flows together as a clearly defined single project, and not as an autonomous entity with an individual layout.
Check back soon for a downloadable version of these tips, and don’t forget to visit regularly for top tips on all things learning and technology related!