Using scenarios to involve learners

I have often seen courses where the learner has to read information in a popup on clicking a button. This click appears with its associated learner instruction and at times is just ornamentation on the screen. If this happens too frequently in a course, the learner starts responding in almost ‘Pavlov-esque’ fashion: a conditioned reflex (okay, so it was the dog and not Pavlov that responded, but you see my point!). The course is no longer entertaining and certainly not engaging. However by definition you could say it is interactive!

So here’s something I have done in the past to help the learner be a more ‘active’ participant in the course: I use scenarios. Instead of a button click for information, the learner is placed in a particular position and asked to respond. The situation does not necessarily flow from the content before it, but is not totally disconnected from it either. Responses can be simply yes/no, true/false options (although we at Saffron try to avoid these – here’s why), or slightly more complicated multiple choice options. In either case, it makes the learner pause and think, and thus the learner is more actively involved in the course.

As an example, consider the following:

“Six Sigma originated as a set of practices designed to improve manufacturing processes and eliminate defects, but its application was subsequently extended to other types of business processes as well.
In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as any process output that does not meet customer specifications, or that could lead to creating an output that does not meet customer specifications.”

With all due respect to the contributors at Wikipedia, this would hardly be the best way to present information for learners in an e-learning module. A number of people would tackle it as follows:

  • Rewrite the first paragraph.
  • Consider including the second paragraph in a popup with a button labelled ‘Defect’.

I admit I have been party to such a line of thought many times. With hindsight, however, I propose the following, slightly more interesting, solution:

  • Rewrite the first paragraph for clarity. For example – Six Sigma is a set of rules developed to perfect manufacturing processes by reducing defects. Its principles have recently been extended to improve other types of business processes as well.
  • In place of the second paragraph, position the learner in a scenario. For example:

The latest MPhone Touch2010 mobile phone advertisement is awesome! You order one over the internet immediately. On receiving the product, however, you find that the touch sensors are not working properly. Which of the following responses are you most likely to choose?

A. You call MPhone and give them a piece of your mind. You ask for a replacement handset immediately.

B. You take it to the nearest MPhone store and have them replace it. All’s well that ends well.

C. You ask for a full refund and pledge to yourself that you are never buying an MPhone again.

Feedback:

A. As well you should, some might say! This is clearly a defective product and not what you expected. Whatever happened to quality control? Had the company adhered to Six Sigma, the chances of this happening would have been quite remote. In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as any process output that does not meet customer specifications, or that could lead to creating an output that does not meet customer specifications.

B. That’s nice of you! There’s no point taking it out on the poor guys at customer care. It’s not their fault that the product has a defect, after all. But had the company adhered to Six Sigma, the chances of this happening would have been quite remote. In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as any process output that does not meet customer specifications, or that could lead to creating an output that does not meet customer specifications.

C. I don’t blame you! A defective product can be quite frustrating. Had the company adhered to Six Sigma, the chances of this happening would have been quite remote. In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as any process output that does not meet customer specifications, or that could lead to creating an output that does not meet customer specifications.

When compared to the original piece of text, or to the click and popup box suggestion, this approach is more thought-provoking and more engaging (and ultimately more effective). It provides meaningful interaction, as opposed to interaction for the sake of it.

So, consider yourself in a position where you have just received content from the client. Going through it you find that you are tempted to use a popup. What do you do? I’ll leave it up to you to figure out the options for this one.

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About the author

Ishan Dutt - QA Analyst

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