It’s true, the very best learning includes a large dose of ‘involve me’, of user interaction—but it’s so easy to overdose. A classic example is systems training. In its early years, it involved a virtual coach describing the system’s features and navigation while you were required to stare at the screen and follow an animated cursor around as it magically clicked, double-clicked, right-clicked and hovered over various things on the screen, supposedly simulating ‘real life’. If that was real life…
As systems training has evolved, it has become less talk and more action. Simulations allow users to physically interact with virtual systems without the fear of causing irreversible damage, and have largely become a key influence on the way systems training is now designed. Of late, however, I’ve noticed there’s more clicking than anything else.
A couple of years ago I sampled a course created for nursing staff, to train them on the hospital’s patient management system. It ran for three hours. Simulation after simulation, the coach led me through each and every click. The learning outcomes boldly stated that by the end of the course I’d be able to track patient treatment. However, even after completing the course I still didn’t have a clue and if I was let loose in the hospital there would have been a huge legal bill to pay. I bet the company paid someone thousands of pounds to create the training, but I was bored stiff and left unenlightened by this great attempt to disguise a page-turning exercise.
User interaction is often mistaken for the ‘involve me’ element, but that’s only one half of the story. The other half is the context – a scenario or story based on real life, one that will get the learner to think about their own experiences. That said, there also has to be a need for each simulation in systems training. There’s no point creating a simulation for everything as this often renders the course to be little more than a sophisticated online help manual, not the ‘behaviour-changing’ course it was meant to be!
So, when you’re creating your next systems training, be sure to think about the learners’ sanity. Use case studies and real life examples to add weight to the content. Make it interactive but limit the number of simulations and the length of each one so that they really do add value, continue to engage the learner, and most importantly, meet the desired learning objectives.