Curb to create!

As someone who composes music in their spare time I often come up against a wall of creative choice when starting a new composition. I could write a piece of music for any instrument, at any speed or any style, based in a major or minor key or even in multiple keys, and I find myself overwhelmed by the endless possibilities. This often results in me getting 24 bars into a new composition for full symphony orchestra plus rock band and wondering whether I could add in an opera singer, two Indian sitars and a tabla. It’s then that I realise I have got side-tracked by the abundant possibilities and my composition has lost all direction, focus and meaning.

So what does this have to do with e-learning? Well, just like music composition, the possibilities are endless. We have so much technology at our disposal, endless video and graphic options and wonderfully eye-catching gadgets we could use that we can be left feeling overwhelmed with choice. Should this slide be a click-to-reveal or a drag-and-drop? Should we introduce another character with a new case study? Perhaps the case study could be an interactive video? Could we have the character be made to look like the learner using their internal work photograph? As we begin to drown in exciting possibilities, so too does the learner. Inevitably their senses are overwhelmed by a million and one super gadgets and gimmicks but are they actually learning? Since the main point of any training is to learn, a way of curbing and channelling this creativity has to be found.

When I began my music degree we were all instructed to compose a piece of music using only one note. Initially I was filled with dread, how could I possibly compose something using only one note? Then the penny dropped and I realised there was so much more to music than simply the pitch of the notes, for example, I could use any instruments I wanted, I could change the rhythms and dynamics (loud and soft) or the tempo. Suddenly it struck me that previously I had been using pitch and melody as a crutch to hold up my compositions. The idea of limiting a composition or part of a composition to only one note is not a new idea. In North Indian classical music, a raga (piece of music) starts off with the sitar playing only one note repeatedly for several minutes. They will strum the note quickly or slowly, the octave above and then the two octaves together,and then back to the single note. And then, one time they will play an entirely different note and that new note sounds like the most wondrous note you’ve ever heard. It has much more impact than if you had been hearing that note throughout the piece of music. It really makes you sit up and listen.

Therefore, as an instructional designer perhaps I should set limits on my creativity. Of course, this doesn’t mean I will end up creating a bland and non-interactive course, it just means that effects should not be the crutch of an e-learning course rather they should be facilitators to the learning process. Perhaps the first module of the training should have no interaction at all? Perhaps each module should be limited to a maximum of 3 interactive pages? Perhaps the layout of every page should be standard until there’s a really critical point the learner must absorb and then that page should be in a different style to give more emphasis to this point? Just as there is so much more to a piece of music than melody, there is also so much more to an e-learning course than gadgets. There are so many subtle ways in which to interact with the learner and cause them to learn in a more focussed and strategic way. By limiting choices in some creative areas, other areas will inevitably blossom. By picking and choosing when to allow this blossoming and using it as a way to emphasise the key learning topics, the resulting course should be more succesful and focussed.