The Learning Theory Of Cognitive Development In eLearning

There has been an ongoing debate amongst educators about the role of memory versus intelligence in fostering effective learning. It has long been held that learners are more successful in retaining new content if they consciously think about what’s being taught, as opposed to simply memorizing what they see on the slides or on a computer screen.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

Can we use scenarios to teach concepts?

Here at action mapping central, we’re all about scenarios — realistic activities that help people practice what they need to do on the job.

“That’s all fine,” some people say. “But people need to be taught basic concepts before they can apply them. You can’t just throw people into an activity without first teaching them the concepts.”

I say that yes, we can throw them into an activity that requires knowledge that they don’t yet have. The trick is to make that knowledge available for them to draw on as they need it.

Here’s a basic example.

Measuring tape

Add fractions without knowing how to add fractions

Let’s consider the plight of people in the US, the land of feet and inches. When calculating building supplies, Americans often need to add fractions.

Our learners are American construction workers or similar people who often need to figure out the total length of two boards. We’re designing elearning.

A lot of designers would say, “First we need to show them a video on how to add fractions. Then we need to provide an example in which Pablo the friendly foreman adds the length of two different boards and explains step by step how he does it. Then we’ll let the learners do it with two other boards. This is tell, show, do, which everyone knows is the best way to teach.”

Let’s try it a different way. Let’s make me one of the learners. Math was not my best subject.

  • I’m plunged into an activity that requires me to figure out the total length of a 5-foot, 2 1/2″ board plus a 3-foot, 4 3/8″ board. I’m trying to determine if I can put them end-to-end to get the length required for my porch deck. I realize I have no clue how to calculate the total length.
  • I click the optional link called “How to add fractions.” I see a quick tutorial on how to do it in general. If I had remembered anything from math class, this tutorial probably would have been enough for me.
  • I apply what I learned in the tutorial to the problem, but I’m not sure I’m doing it right. The answer I got is one of the options, but something seems wrong about it.
  • I click the other link, called “See how to solve it.” This shows me the first step to solving the problem and then displays a “Next” link, giving me the option to see the next step. When I click “Next,” I see the next step, and I finally understand what I need to do. I go back to the problem and solve it. If I didn’t get it after seeing the first two steps, I could have kept clicking until I saw all the steps and the actual solution.
  • The course also offers a downloadable, printable job aid that includes a quick reminder of how to add fractions, so I can look at it on the job.

​This is a very different way of “teaching” stuff. Its advantage over “tell, show, do” is that it puts control in the learner’s hands. People who already know how to add fractions simply complete the activity and move along quickly, while people like me who don’t know the method stop, learn it, and then apply it.

​Since this is self-paced elearning, we could adapt it to the learner. If someone views the support materials before solving the first fraction-adding problem, we schedule another fraction-adding problem for them (and maybe another and another, depending on how they seem to perform). In contrast, the people who solve the first problem without help move on immediately to a different type of activity, because they’ve shown that they can already add fractions.

The advantages

Each person gauges for themselves how much they know, seeing and filling their own knowledge gaps. Everyone goes at their own pace, digging deep into the how-to material or skipping it. No one has to sit through a presentation about stuff they already know.

And, importantly, the designer shows that they respect the learners as functioning adults with life experience. For a lot more about that, see the recording of our recent webinar on motivation.

For research that supports this approach, see my post Throw them in the deep end and the FAQ Where’s the research support for scenarios?

Scenario design course: Seats still available

There are still seats available in the scenario design course that starts on Feb. 6. Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios, with personal feedback from me. Sign up here.

Vote for topics

What do you want to hear about in this blog or future webinars? Enter your own ideas and vote on others’ here. To add an idea, click “Give feedback.”

Photo credit: lungstruck Flickr via Compfight cc; cropped

Choosing An Instructional Design Software 101

In the absence of an experienced Instructional Designer, Instructional Design software or rapid authoring tools are making it easier for companies to develop rich and interactive courses nonetheless. Looking for Instructional Design software tools? Use our guide to popular course authoring software.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

5 Key Elements Every eLearning Course Targeting Adult Learners Should Have

Do adults learn in the same way as their younger counterparts? Or do they need their own special approach to absorb the information? In this article, I'll share 5 key elements that every eLearning course targeting adult learners should have.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

Video: 3 ways to motivate

How can we help learners feel autonomy, competence, and relatedness? Here’s a video of the webinar I recently ran on that topic, plus a summary of what we talked about.

Training design: 3 ways to motivate learners from Cathy Moore on Vimeo.

It’s all about self-determination

According to self-determination theory, when people are externally motivated, they simply obey someone else’s rules (“I do it because the boss is watching”). They might feel resentment or anxiety, and they probably perform the behavior just well enough to stay out of trouble.

Our goal as trainers is to get people to adopt the new behavior as their own and perform it willingly and well — we want them to become more internally motivated.

Research seems to support the idea that people are more likely to become internally motivated if we support their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. (For a lot more on that, see this PDF overview.)

Sample activities

To see what that might look like in activity design, we looked at a simple compliance activity and these two branching scenarios:

The activities we looked at don’t make you sit through an information presentation. You’re just plunged into each activity, as described in this blog post.

We focused on self-paced activities rather than all types of training because the activities are easiest to show on a screen during a webinar, and our time was limited. However, the concepts we discussed also apply to other formats and materials, including job aids and live training.

Autonomy

We took a quote from the paper to define autonomy as “a sense of choice, volition, and freedom from excessive external pressure toward behaving or thinking a certain way.”

When talking about practice activities, we could consider autonomy at two levels. The first, shallow level is user choice: “Now I will click this other thing in this boring click-to-reveal.” The second and more interesting is a deeper sense of freedom from feeling like someone is telling us what to think.

See the video for the lively discussion among participants about how well the sample activities supported that deeper sense of autonomy. We then summed up our recommendations as a group.

We decided we could do the following to support autonomy in self-paced activities.

  • Offer relevant scenarios with authentic choices
  • Offer optional, on-demand resources rather than assuming ignorance and forcing people to sit through presentations
  • Let people take risks
  • Show the consequence of each choice by continuing the story and letting people draw conclusions, rather than telling them, “Incorrect, blah blah blah” (see this blog post for an example)
  • Provide a clear goal for the person to achieve in the activity (beat the competition to the news story; help Hana) so they see a compelling reason to complete it

Competence

We considered three aspects of competence:

  • “I can do this!”
  • “Oops, I screwed up here, but I see how to fix it.”
  • “I’ve got the basics now. Give me something harder.”

After gauging how well the sample activities supported our need for competence, we summed up our recommendations:

  • Use scaffolding — for example, start with easier activities and then build on them
  • Show the consequence of the choice and offer constructive feedback, not the shaming red X and “Incorrect”
  • Don’t offer too-obvious options in a scenario — they insult people’s intelligence
  • Don’t obviously track people — it suggests, “We don’t trust you to learn anything”

I’d add that an intuitive interface also supports our need to feel competent, as do easy-to-use job aids and other support materials.

Relatedness

Finally, we looked at the need for relatedness. This was defined as a sense of belonging or connection with others, and feeling respected and cared for by the “teacher.”

The compliance-style activity was a little low on relatedness. However, even it managed to make us care a bit because we were trying to save a person with a name (Magda) rather than answering an abstract fact check.

The branching scenarios were rich in relatedness, and participants said they wanted to help Hana and didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of Ludo. We cared how our decisions affected people who we knew were completely fictional.

We decided that to support relatedness in our activities, we could:

  • Provide realistic characters with names
  • Create characters that aren’t perfect
  • Choose relatable situations that inspire empathy and that have emotional content
  • Have the learner collaborate with characters towards a goal
  • Choose a story that has the learner help others or be helped (or both)
  • Write realistic dialog (see some tips)

Relatable characters have names. Running out of name ideas? Try FakeNameGenerator, which creates names from all over the world (thanks, Amy, for finding that!). Another is uinames.com.

I’d also add that we can build relatedness by writing like a human being rather than a bureaucrat. You can even measure how human you sound, and contractions are your friend.

My thanks go out to all the participants, including the determined few in Australia who got up at 4 AM! Thanks for sharing your ideas, comments, and questions.

Scenario design course starts soon

If you like the discussion-rich approach I used in the webinar, you’ll like the scenario design course that starts in February. The groups are much smaller for more personal attention, and you get my private feedback on your work. Check it out!

Instructional Design For eLearning: Essential Guide To Creating Successful eLearning Courses

In creating this 2nd Edition of Instructional Design for eLearning, I have sought to provide a single resource on the subject that can be leveraged by both novice Instructional Designers and advanced practitioners.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.