Here’s the challenge for many of us. We want to make our courses engaging and interactive, yet sometimes the content or the time pressures of work don’t make that easy.
The default position for many elearning courses is to merely push the information out to the learners. The end result is that the course is heavy on information and light on interaction. By changing the way you structure the information, you can quickly build the framework for more engaging and interactive courses. It’s just a matter of rethinking how you approach the course design.
Let’s assume you do all of the front end analysis and you’re ready to build the course. You have clear learning objectives and all of the information you need to meet those objectives. You also want to assess the learner’s understanding. So regardless of which approach you take you basically start with the same content and goals.
The Push Approach
I get to look at a lot of courses. Generally, they all seem to follow a similar structure. They start with the objectives, jump into the course content, and then end with a quiz. Some of them will sprinkle knowledge checks throughout the course content to test the learner’s progress. So a typical course might look like this:
This approach is kind of like how you’d build a product in a factory. You design something that generally meets the needs of most people. Then you push it out to all of the learners.
There’s nothing inherently bad about this approach. Assuming good content design and a product that is visually engaging, this works fine. This is especially true if all you need is tracked completion and there are no real performance requirements for the course. And the reality is that’s the case for a lot of elearning, no matter how different you want it to be. Plus, it’s really easy to build courses this way because you can focus just on the information.
The downside to pushing your content to the learners is that it assumes that all of the information is equally relevant to the learners and meets their learning needs.
The Pull Approach
Just like the previous approach, we’ll assume that you have all of the content that the learner needs. However, in this approach, you’re not focusing on designing the content as much as you are creating reasons to use the content. What you want to do is get the learner to pull the content he needs.
This allows each learner to have access to the same information, yet the learning experience might be unique to the learner. So instead of focusing on creating a universal design that pushes the content, you focus on crafting the right types of reasons a person needs to pull the content. With this approach you can still provide all of the same information. All you’re doing is changing how the learner gets it.
Here’s a real world example.
A while back I was doing some home remodeling and decided to put up some crown molding. The problem with crown molding is that it has two surfaces, one on that rests on the ceiling and one that rests on the wall. This means that it requires a special cut. Having hung up other types of trim I was used to just cutting simple angles.
Not thinking about the crown molding’s compound angle, I proceeded to cut the molding at a 45° angle (which I learned wasn’t correct when I put the molding up on the ceiling). I tried to guesstimate the next cut and got that wrong, too. Now I had wasted two expensive pieces of crown molding and convinced my wife that if stranded on a deserted island she should plan to care for her own survival.
Since I obviously didn’t know how to cut the molding, I went online and did a search for the right technique. I found one site that had everything you could possible learn about crown molding. After clicking through pages of information, I finally found what I needed. Unfortunately, I needed to brush up on calculus to figure out what all of the math symbols were. I tried another site that in four simple steps showed me how to cut the molding the right way.
Now let’s look at the learning experience. We’ll consider both sites “courses” on crown molding. They both addressed how to cut crown molding and they were both built oblivious to me. The courses were just pushed out on the Internet.
They only became relevant when I had a need and pulled the content to meet my needs. At that point, my need was to cut crown molding. So the simple four-step cutting information was all I needed. It didn’t make the other information less valuable. It just wasn’t relevant at that time. However, if my need was to learn more about the styles of crown molding, then the other information would have been more relevant.
How do you get the learners to pull the information?
When you push the information out, you spend your time trying to figure out the best way to get it to the learners and make it stick. On the other hand, when you design the course for the learners to pull the information, you spend your time figuring out how they would use it and then set it up for them to pull the content.
In either case, you work with the same core content, you’re just changing up how you get it to the learners. And that’s where you want to make the change in the way you approach the course design. Instead of creating an outline of content, start by asking, “How do we get the learners to pull this information?”
This doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Well designed case studies or scenarios can create a need for the learners to pull the information. If I had taken a course on crown molding prior to hanging it up, I probably wouldn’t have remembered the cutting procedures. However, once I had a need, I was motivated to find the solution and to this day, seven years later, still remember how to cut the molding.
You don’t even need to have big case studies. You can present some simple questions or problem-solving activities that require a solution. Essentially, you want to create a need for the information. Once the learner has a need, then they’re motivated to fulfill it. And that’s how you get the information to them.
By changing your focus from push to pull, you can share the same information and at the same time create a learning experience that is somewhat unique to the learner. If you were to use a pull-based course, what are some ways that you can get the information to the learner? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas by clicking on the comments link.
If you liked this post, you might also find these of interest:
- How Can Baking Cookies Improve Your E-learning Course?
- What Everybody Ought to Know About Instructional Design
- Does President Obama Support Locking Your E-Learning Course Navigation?
I’m trying something new for the ASTD 2009 International Conference & Exposition. I’ll be doing a series of rapid elearning demos at the Articulate booth. Each hour will start with a pre-planned demo, however the rest of the time will be open to questions. I’d love to know what types of demos you’d like to see. Feel free to share them with me. Also, if you happen to be at the conference, swing by the booth and say hello.