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How to avoid your e-learning being a bit "So what?" Featured

Mr JPB, who works in the Telecoms industry, asks: “Despite what I thought was an excellent Training Needs Analysis phase and a good build with smooth LMS integration, I’ve commissioned e-learning content that’s ended up very ‘worthy’ but somehow misses the spot and doesn’t seem to be making much of an impression on my people. Is there anything I can do to polish up my content to have more of an effect?”.

This is a very common problem. This probably isn’t what you want to hear but did you do any piloting with representative end-users throughout the design and build process? OK, so that’s what you should do next time. But what can you do this time, given that you are where you are? If, as you say, you’re worried about what your people are taking away from the content, then my diagnosis would be that your people are suffering from content which is some combination of insufficiently exciting, engaging and/or effective. Let’s take a brief look at each in turn.

Exciting your end-users is about grabbing their attention through the careful and varied use of multimedia: text, graphics, sound, animation and video. Without a sprinkling of these elements every now and again, even the most informationally riveting material may seem a little flat. Can you repurpose any animation or video you may have lying around, or, failing that, have you considered adding sound? Neither of these things need cost a fortune but either or both could give your content the lift you’re looking for.

Engaging your end-users is best done through the use of interactivity; once you’ve grabbed their attention, you need to make sure you keep it. Try to introduce a simple interactive exercise every two or three screens to hammer home the learning and stop your people getting click-happy. Talk to your designers about revisiting a couple of sections to make them more about discovery and less about being on the receiving end of a presentation. Interactivity needn’t only be person/programme; it can be about person/person or person/expert. What support mechanisms can you build in quickly and cheaply?

Making your content effective is the trickiest one of all and this is where instructional designers are worth their weight in gold. But if you don’t have time to do a major restructure of your content, there is something else you should try which can have a surprisingly good effect. Despite its peculiarities, e-learning is fundamentally an act of communication and the best communicators are those people who constantly “play” to their audience, indicate the “point” of what they’re saying, why they’re saying it, why it’s important – and, more or less subtly, why their audience should listen. They are, in other words, doing all they can to stop someone asking “so what?” at the end of their communication – and that’s what you need to do too.

Please try this little experiment: take another look at your content. Ask yourself (and please be honest) how many “so what?” screens you have as a percentage of the total. Now take an aspirin, pick your first handful and then set about making some minimal changes that will help fend off the “so what?” question. Can you change a few words to make that handful more relevant, interesting, challenging, or unexpected? Can you relate them back to your end-user’s needs and situation, both personal and professional? Their objectives? Their aspirations, perhaps? In a sales course, for example, it’s the difference between listing a load of product facts or features on the one hand (“so what?”) and telling your end-user that mentioning benefits x, y and z will enhance their chances of closing the sale by a factor of 10 (“Blimey!”), on the other.

I suspect that, like structuring an argument, these kind of higher-level concerns come later on in our development as communicators, which might account for the fact that we all see so much “so what?” content out there. But it is a skill very much worth learning. A few judiciously-placed kicker boxes – pointing out why people should take notice - can make all the difference in the world.


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