Are you – or is someone you work closely with – a SME (subject matter expert)? Instructional designers often require a SME’s knowledge and input to develop training. And it can be a challenge to obtain the key content (and only the key content).
First, let’s introduce a typical SME, Simone. Simone is the director of compliance for the organization and comes to this role with 13 years’ experience. She is well-regarded in the organization and is often the go-to person when difficult compliance questions arise. Over the years, the compliance team has put into place a series of standard operating procedures, tools, and best practices that help the organization stay in compliance so they can continue selling their products. Simone was instrumental in creating these documents and approaches, and really loves her work. She loves it so much she tries to share her knowledge with any willing (or not so willing!) listener.
Are you working with a SME, and feeling the pain, wondering how such a fabulous compliance director can also be such a challenge to work with? Let’s explore the symptoms you might experience, and provide some prevention strategies.
Bleeding content: Too much material
Simone’s slides – for management presentations and for training – are filled with text and there are few images or diagrams. Her slides include a lot of details that are important to Simone. Much of this content, however, isn’t applicable to the target audience. When she meets with the instructional designer or presents to a group, she reads off the slides and adds even more details – whether or not they apply. After all, she loves her content! Everyone should want to know all she knows.
Unclear diagnosis: Missing content and next steps
Often there are disconnects. It’s not clear how Simone got from point A to point B. And sometimes it’s not clear to the listeners what they need to be able to do with the information. Are they responsible for completing the tasks? For ensuring the tasks have been completed? In what situations? How often? What is the impact of not doing it or not doing it correctly? Simone means very well, but she takes the content and connections for granted. She already knows how it all ties together and she’s been working with it for years so she assumes everyone else understands the connections, too.
Constant emergencies and “setbacks”: Lacks time to support the instructional designer
Simone is, of course, a very busy person. She didn’t plan to spend hours answering questions the instructional designer is posing to her. She doesn’t have time to review a design document, a storyboard, and an elearning course or instructor notes, slides, and handouts for a classroom course. Sometimes she misses meetings, comes poorly prepared, or even misses deadlines you agreed upon.
There are many prevention options, usually a combination of which are most effective. Here are three of my favorites.
Control the content: Stay focused on the goal and how the learner needs to perform
Typically, I start with a needs analysis looking at the business goals and performance required to achieve those goals. The learning objectives, then, are focused on supporting the required performance and I obtain stakeholder agreement on these objectives.
Having laid the groundwork, I can keep these goals and objectives front and center. When Simone asks me to add more content or explains content she already provided me, I’ll ask questions like:
- Is this critical information needed for the learner to be able to [insert learning objective here]?
- Or is the information “nice to have”? If so, I suggest we eliminate it so the learner isn’t overloaded with non-critical information.
- Or is the information really helpful but not critical? Then, I might suggest we include it as an optional “tip” or in a resource list.
Another set of follow-up questions I like is: If you were the target learner, what would you need to be able to do with this information? Why is that so important? What if I don’t know/do that?
I might end up sounding like a broken record, but I’ll keep asking these same questions. Eventually Simone will catch on and start self-editing.
Create a logical, connected sequence: Simplify content and make it accessible
When I am handed an existing slideshow the SME would like to use, and I see it is filled with lots of words, one approach I use is to diagram what the words mean. For example, if I am developing training about a process, I show it in a simplified flowchart and break it down (using more flowcharting) throughout the course. This both helps anchor learners in where they are in the process and helps them see interrelationships.
I also like to use scenarios, with visual representations of the characters and what they are doing. Telling a story via the scenario helps learners feel immersed in the learning. You can do this as an alternative to blocks of classroom lecture or pages of text in an elearning course.
I always check in with Simone to confirm the diagram or scenarios convey the key points accurately. After doing this for a bit, eventually Simone will hopefully appreciate how I’m bringing her content to life and the value I provide as an instructional designer.
Set expectations early and often
Have you ever brought your car in for service and they tell you it will take 3 hours and cost no more than $300? Then, six hours later – no car yet and they decided it will be $1500? Of course a good repair shop will set expectations with you up front and update you so there are no last-minute surprises.
Imagine Simone’s situation. She needs to know how much of her time will be needed and when so she can plan appropriately. If you underestimate or don’t offer any indication, she can’t easily ensure she’ll have the time needed. So, I like to let the SME know early on how much time is needed and when the “heavy” weeks will be. Then, as the project morphs and the timelines change, I keep her updated and check in on her ability to meet the new deadlines before setting them in stone.
Another helpful tip is to plan meetings in advance. Having a weekly or biweekly meeting on the calendar for check-ins and working time is a way to guarantee a minimum of time together. Simone will appreciate having an agenda in advance and an action item list after the meeting. If you don’t need a meeting, you can always cancel. I never hear complaints about a canceled meeting. And remain flexible so the SME stays engaged.
Finally, acknowledge your SME is very busy and may have true emergencies to tend to. When I know that might be an ongoing concern, I ask Simone to provide an alternate SME and ensure that Simone will have opportunities to review materials. This can protect her time and help keep the project moving along.
So, what’s the prognosis for SME syndrome? If you implement your prevention plan from the start – staying organized and communicating openly with the SME – you greatly increase your ability to develop a training program that meets the needs of the learner and the organization.
In our last blog post we saw how immersive, sensory events can help us remember experiences, using the example of my trip to the Blue Lagoon spa. We don’t need to visit a spa to help learners remember, though…we can create immersive experiences to enhance our instructional design. Here are two examples of physically immersive activities from our library.
The Human Flowchart
Training people in a specific process often involves use of a flowchart, but review of this tool in a classroom can be a dull exercise. We can bring the training to life—and make it more effective—with a “human flowchart.”
We used immersion in this way when we designed a class for a medical device company on FDA complaint handling regulations. The client developed a process to meet the FDA requirements and created a flowchart with a series of 20 steps to be executed by seven distinct roles.
EnVision immersed the learners in the training using movement. We broke up the learners into seven groups, each representing a different role and gave each group signs, listing their part in the complaint handling process.
Getting up from their desks, the learners then needed to move into a flowchart according to their part in the complaint process. Once everyone was in the right spot, the instructor started in the role of a customer calling in a complaint. Each group then shared what action they planned to take and what information would move on to the next group. The movement and interaction with others kept the learners involved in the entire process of complaint handling. Back at work, they should be more likely to recall the details of their role’s steps based on the physical locations of each learner.
For another client, this one a global pharma organization, we designed a course for new managers. One of the learning objectives was for learners “to be able to describe how managers’ actions impact the engagement of their team members.” To achieve this, we created an activity in which “managers” set and communicated performance objectives around building widgets, in this case paper origami cranes, with “employees” who were to make them. During different rounds, managers could give no feedback or some feedback and coaching. Debrief followed with a focus on the value of feedback and coaching to engage employees.
Picture a classroom filled with learners eagerly (or not so eagerly without coaching!) folding paper cranes to achieve their goals. The feel of the crinkled paper, the sound of their managers coaching them (or the dead air when they didn’t!)…these involved the senses and helped learners become fully immersed in the activity. The experience became more than “knowledge,” but an experience to remember and be able to describe concretely.
Creating Your Own Activities to Engage the Senses
Some of the best learning activities allow the learners to immerse in the learning activity, much as tourists immerse in the spa baths at the Blue Lagoon.
So, for your next course, try finding a way to immerse learners even more deeply in the learning by involving multiple senses. It can be a lot of fun to create activities like these, and it requires imagination, creativity, and lots of planning. Want your own activity to engage the senses? Schedule a call for a free 1-hour consultation on how to make that happen.
This summer, my husband and I traveled to Iceland. Among other wonders of nature, we visited the Blue Lagoon, a spa formed 40 years ago during the creation of a geothermal power plant. Today, people come from all over to bathe in the warm, soothing water.
There are a surprising number of things to do at the Blue Lagoon. You can laze underneath a man-made waterfall, order a drink from the bar, or even enjoy a massage in the water. We wandered across the bridges over the pool and explored the area. We even used the silica clay as a mud mask to soften our skin and further the sense of relaxation.
Even with all the amenities, I was spellbound first and foremost by the setting. The water, turned a beautiful blue-green by naturally occurring algae, had a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit – about 45 degrees warmer than the air. This contrast between water and air made the warm pools feel even more comfortable and welcoming.
With nearly 20 hours of sunlight in July, it didn’t feel strange to be soaking outside at nearly any time of day. In the daylight, I was able to appreciate the setting clearly. Lava fields topped with moss surround the pool. When I closed my eyes, I heard the gentle cascade of the waterfall. With everything I felt, saw and heard, the Blue Lagoon was an immersion for the senses.
Research shows that these strong sensory impressions could help me remember my visit: a specific sight or sound can bring back a particular memory, and there’s a very good reason for it. “The same part of our brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories,” writes Rachel Reittner on livescience.com.
This storage receptacle is known as the sensory cortex. Benedetto Sachetti, a researcher in Italy, conducted an experiment with rats in which he trained the rodents to associate a specific sound with an electric shock. The rats would freeze upon hearing the sound, but after the scientists created lesions on the rats’ sensory auditory cortexes, they froze less frequently. This suggested the rats correlated the sound with the electric shock, and could no longer do so after their lesions (Sacco & Sachetti (2010). Role of Secondary Sensory Cortices in Emotional Memory Storage. Science, 329 (5992), pp. 649-656.)
The practice of mindfulness can include focusing one’s attention on the senses, and there is evidentiary support that it, too, helps memory. In another experiment led by Michael Mrazek, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, undergraduates were directed to take a class in either mindfulness or nutrition for two weeks. “The students in the mindfulness group were taught how to pay attention to their sensory processes, like tasting food and breathing,” writes Alice G. Walton in an article describing the experiment.
The students’ recall was tested both by working memory tests and a verbal GRE (graduate admissions) exercise. After one week of instruction, the mindfulness group improved more than the nutrition group in both assessments.
The takeaway? The senses have a big role in memory retention. If possible, try to incorporate a strong sensory component into your instructional design. Oh, and the trip to the Blue Lagoon was amazing….just ask me in 10 years. I’ll remember.
For case studies see our post on Using Multiple Senses to Improve Learning.
We’re all enjoying the Rio Olympics right now, and witnessing incredible athletic feats. Some sports achievements are very easy to measure. Take track and field, for example. In a race, the runner who crosses the finish line first wins. In soccer or water polo, the team that scores the most points wins the game.
In other Olympic sports, however, the winner may not be so nearly clear-cut. In gymnastics, an athlete prepares a program to the best of her (or his) ability. The judges score her on many elements, and the highest score among the athletes determines the winner. The gymnast will not know immediately following her program whether or not she won, as her competitors follow her.
Similarly, instructional designers don’t face an immediate, clear-cut path to knowing if their training “stuck” — and if the learners are able to apply what they’ve learned to their jobs. However, with evaluations, instructional designers can learn a great deal about their training programs’ success.
The Kirkpatrick evaluation levels assess learner reaction (level 1), learning (level 2), application of skills to the job (level 3), and business results (level 4). Challenges may arise with executing each evaluation level. Let’s look at a few of the challenges in levels 1-3 and see how instructional designers might mitigate them.
Measuring learner reaction, level 1, can be done by a course evaluation form, show of learners’ hands, verbal check-ins, or via a “dashboard” that measures the pace of the course and learner energy levels. The trainer notes learner reactions during the course and can use these to amend the course both “on the fly” and after. Clients may, however, read too much into level 1 results and want to change the learning solution without further assessment. It is important to explain to clients exactly what level 1 assessments measure — solely learner reaction — and to use other evaluation tools as well.
Level 2 evaluations, or measurements of learning, frequently take the form of final written tests or simulations. However, writing assessment questions can often be a challenge in itself. If the questions are too difficult for learners to understand, this could impact the validity of the test. Similarly, it can be hard to write appropriate “distractor” questions that are not obviously incorrect. After all, some people pass a learning assessment with flying colors — without ever taking the class or having done the job for which they are training.
The other issue for instructional designers is that there is not necessarily a direct correlation between level 2 “test” success and on-the-job achievement. Extensive knowledge may not lead to professional efficacy. To test for skills, ask assessment questions that explore the best way to execute certain job tasks or make on-the-job decisions, rather than questions seeking rote knowledge.
Level 3 evaluations measure application of skills to the job, often via learner or manager surveys, interviews with learners or managers, or on-the-job observation. An important consideration when measuring at level 3 is to ensure appropriate resources and tools — coaching, performance support, etc. — are in place to reinforce learning and support behavioral change.
The “success case method” created by Robert Brinkerhoff also may reveal successful on-the-job behavioral changes. With this method, stakeholders interview a sample of learners — typically high performers — to determine which factors have made them successful — and then corroborate this success with independent evidence. Because the strong learners share which influences contributed to their success, their interview responses can yield clues to help the less successful learners.
The success/case method can be very effective, giving stakeholders qualitative feedback beyond data, says Paula Spizziri, an EnVision consultant. “Sometimes you don’t know what’s behind the curtain…this gives you that,” she said. However, an organization using the success/case method needs to allocate time and resources for the interviews and independent data collection.
While all evaluation methods have some challenges, many of these hurdles can be mitigated. Because learning success, like that of a gymnastics program, may not be immediate, the evaluation process strengthens your training program.
I happen to be a big music lover, and enjoy both listening and performing as a flutist in the Sharon Concert Band. At last week’s band rehearsal our conductor, Steve, was doing his usual great job of keeping us on tempo, signaling when each section needs to come in, and gesturing to show we should play more piano (Steve often needs to remind us to play more softly). As I was playing, it occurred to me that a symphonic performance resembles the process of training.
In both, people assume distinct roles to accomplish the goal — whether it be performing the piece or executing the training program. And both require a specific process, anchored by practice, to reach those goals.
A symphony (or other musical piece) begins in the mind of a composer, who creates the music to be played. After learning the piece of music, the conductor rehearses the musicians in preparation of performing the symphony.
An instructional designer, similar to a composer, authors the learning solution. A trainer (“conductor”) then takes over, using the leader’s guide (music “score”) and teaches the learners (“musicians”) the material they need to know. A trainer may use visual aids or workbooks to guide the learner, just like a conductor uses a baton to lead musicians and keep the beat.
A symphony may feature a few soloists throughout the piece. A soloist shines in an orchestral performance, much like an active participant stands out in the classroom. A section leader in each instrument group organizes the section, much like a facilitator may help “conduct” a breakout group in classroom instruction.
While musicians and learners “rehearse” all together, each “musician” must put in individual practice time to learn the material. During a learning session, the trainer may break the learners into groups, where each group can work on a directed activity and then share the results with the entire classroom. Likewise, a conductor rehearses one group of musicians at a time, such as the flutes, to work on a specific part. Afterward, the entire orchestra can play together.
A successful symphonic performance depends both on the musicians rehearsing together (as in classroom instruction) and each player practicing (or learning) on his or her own. Facilitation by an experienced conductor, or trainer, brings out the best in the musicians or learners. Each person has his or her “part” to play, and each role must be “performed” to the best of the performer’s abilities to achieve a winning final product.
Have you ever gone on a treasure hunt, or maybe seen one in the movies? The seeker searches for a treasure chest—usually attending to challenges along the way. Imagine large rolling rocks and a few poison darts, all difficult to control! Eventually the seeker locates the elusive treasure chest, but not all its contents are gleaming. There is some culling to do, and some polishing, before being ready to present the gems to the funders of the treasure hunt.
Back in the real world, learning & development professionals are given a mission to add value to the business, often through a request for “training.” On the L&D professionals’ “treasure search” they often attend to challenges along the way. Imagine the multiple competing priorities, regulatory controls, and insufficient resources that can impact successful learning.
Once the treasure is “found” (the learners have learned something!), what culling and polishing needs to be done so you can clearly see your treasure, before you present your findings to the funders and other stakeholders in your organization? Sometimes it can be challenging to find those precious gems and polish them so we can see how they glitter!
Earlier this month, I presented a workshop at the regional ATD conference. The topic, Polishing Your Gems, focused on creating an evaluation plan for a learning solution. Joined by client Matt Matosic from the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), we worked through a case study summarizing BPHC’s course on Hospital-Based Patient Decontamination and discussed options for evaluating its success. Participants then had an opportunity to begin developing their own evaluation plans, using an Evaluation and Measurement Planning Checklist we provided.
But where to start? Here are the core questions we suggested in our workshop to help folks determine which treasures to seek, as they begin their own evaluation planning.
Business issues questions
- Why is this training (or other intervention) being requested?
- What is driving the request or identification of this issue?
- How will solving this problem support the organization’s “business” goals?
- What do you need to be able to show as an outcome of your efforts?
- Who will see the results? (Consider: L&D management, business line management, senior management, learners themselves, instructional designer, instructor, funders, and other stakeholders)
- What will each stakeholder do with the information?
You might recognize that many of these questions get at Kirkpatrick’s level 4 (business impact).
Job performance questions
- What changes in job performance are needed to support meeting the business goals?
- What changes in job performance can reasonably be addressed via a learning solution?
- What workplace supports (such as managers, mentors, or peers; job aids or other performance support tools; periodic updates or web meetings) are realistically available to support the change in job performance?
These questions relate to Kirkpatrick’s level 3 (behavior change on the job).
Answers to these questions will help you define the learning objectives, set up workplace support systems to ensure learning continues and is reinforced on the job, and develop evaluation tools at all the Kirkpatrick levels.
For more information on our Evaluation and Measurement Planning Checklist, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Practicing a classroom course polishes and improves it. Typically, practice comes with a pilot, during which instructional designers and trainers iron out classroom kinks.
Two pilots (an abbreviated pre-pilot and a full pilot) were employed in a class entitled Operationalizing Emergency Plans: Incident Command in Action, on which EnVision consulted for a public agency. The example shows how a pilot helps the design process when it works well.
This four-hour, immersive simulation was designed for nurses, administrators, and emergency medical technicians in healthcare environments such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, community health centers, and public health commissions. During the simulation, the learners make decisions to help their organization transition from day-to-day operations to a true-to-life emergency situation; a fictitious, extreme heat wave hits the area with no relief at night, producing health and medical complications for the learners to handle.
The learners are divided into teams of various medical and healthcare agencies seated at separate tables, with each learner playing a specific Incident Command System role. The scenario begins three days before the heat wave hits and progresses from the early stages to mid- and late-stages when serious repercussions occur, including power loss, a medical surge, and mass fatalities. The simulation ends with action reporting and improvement planning.
In the class, each team determines which actions to take. EnVision’s client utilized facilitators from different community agencies to help shape discussion at each table. In addition, each table had “injects” sporadically arrive with information that could impact each table’s decisions.
“During the class, the learners explore what it takes for organizations to be ‘operationally ready’ for emergencies, and to experience the Incident Command System in action,” explained Marilyn Kobus, an EnVision team member who worked on the project. Kobus supported the client subject matter expert/course designer-developer by offering design consultation, providing project management services, and contributing to the course instructor guide.
Following the pilot, the learners shared positive feedback. First and foremost, they felt more prepared for a large-scale emergency. The immersive nature of the class enabled the learners to envision what professionals in the different job roles might actually be thinking during an emergency. One learner called the class “a complete revelation.”
In addition, the learners liked the choice of a heat wave as a learning scenario versus a more typical New England event, like a blizzard. Their main challenge was playing “catch-up” following the fast-paced first module.
The instructional designers and trainers learned also, especially in the pre-pilot. Delivered to students in the Public Health Program at Tufts University School of Medicine, the pre-pilot uncovered necessary changes in the course timing, content, and organization of materials. The team also decided to add pre-work for the pilot session.
From the design team’s perspective, the pilot largely hit the bull’s eye. The team planned for minor changes for the actual course, such as having a participant assume the role of team scribe and modifying the pre-work.
Kobus was pleased with the pilot’s success, and believed the design team’s focus on gathering input from community stakeholders to create the scenario played a big role in it. “I have not seen a pilot with so many moving parts run as smoothly as this one did. Despite the fact that there were multiple players, detailed scenarios for the simulation, and unique “injects”…despite that complexity, I thought it was an outstanding pilot. Learners were fully engaged from the start with high energy, and said they gained great skills and information to take back to the job.”
Too often, we go through our workdays head down, nose to the grindstone, and office door shut (or cubicle door metaphorically so). A coworker may need help with something, but we get lost in a deadline, meeting prep, client appointment and are oblivious. Perhaps once in a while, we stop to touch base with our colleagues. Yet in this electronic age, so much of our networking gets done online, rather than face-to-face. And our coworker still has her question that never gets answered.
At EnVision, we value teamwork, communication, and the figurative open office doors very highly. The “EnVisioning our Future” (EOF) sessions we offer are natural extensions of this philosophy.
Twice each year, we hold a day-long EOF for the EnVision team. The subject matter runs the gamut from a new business book’s theory to examples of elearning . Our most recent EOF focused on software application tips and shortcuts. The day always provides a great opportunity to learn from and help each other.
At our “Sharing Application Tips” EOF, several EnVision members presented all kinds of software tips — from embedding objects in a PowerPoint slide to assessing our document’s reading level — all designed to help each of us be more productive and efficient. As each team member presented her software tips, those tips were enthusiastically appreciated by the team.
”Sometimes, the simplest things make a huge difference in the way we work,” said Ginny Maglio, an EnVision team member. “The EOF professional development day validates that we never stop learning and can always learn from each other.”
At this EOF, as with past sessions, our team members realized three benefits beyond the subject matter knowledge they acquired. Team sessions, like our EOF days, can empower your team members to:
1. Help each other while also gaining knowledge in another area. In our recent EOF, one team member demonstrated how to create an info graphic using PowerPoint, while another showed us how to create a table of contents in Word.
2. Learn about—and from—other team members’ projects. Because we each work independently or in small teams, we may not know about other team members’ projects and competencies. The EOF sessions introduce team members to each other’s skills and capabilities, and also show participants how different parts of the organization work to achieve clients’ objectives.
3. Grow relationships with each other. Networking, sharing ideas, and just plain “kicking back” with your coworkers facilitates bonding, making you more comfortable in your role and more likely to approach a coworker with a question. And who knows? You may make a new friend out of it, too.
So, in the rush to meet deadlines, don’t forget to hold regular learning sessions. This results in not only a better-informed team, but also a collaborative, harmonious one.
Change is hard and causes unease, anxiety, and at times, frustration. Every parent who has dropped a child off at kindergarten (or college) knows this!
While change can be overwhelming or even scary, it is often necessary. Professional change brings its own set of challenges. How can you best navigate change at work?
EnVision needed to adapt when we were required to move our SharePoint site over to a new hosting company. We were notified by the “old” hosting company via e-mail and given less than a month to move over our files, as our original service would then be discontinued.
I was a bit taken aback after learning of the tight timetable. After taking a few deep breaths, I notified Tom, our IT guy, and Danielle, our technical/administrative whiz. I couldn’t do this without them.
Tom managed the functionality of the server – back-up and hosting. Danielle’s responsibilities, which required about 8-10 hours of work, included revising the new site’s look to mimic the old SharePoint; setting up appropriate user access for each team member; creating usernames and passwords; and providing crackerjack technical support.
Danielle met some challenges initially. “I went in thinking it’s going to be exactly like the old SharePoint….It is a little bit different,” explained Danielle. “It wasn’t as intuitive.”
The new service provider didn’t offer a support document or user guide. Plus, Danielle discovered that when she added folders, there was no way to return her to the main SharePoint page, so she got creative and built a workaround by adding a “home” link.
The end users (EnVision team members) encountered obstacles, too. Some of the functionality worked best with a particular browser; one team member had difficulty logging in; another had trouble opening and saving documents. Thanks to Danielle and her support, these issues resolved pretty quickly.
Lessons learned from this SharePoint experience can be applied to any change. While initially I felt a bit overwhelmed, I dug into the new software and eventually figured it out.
Three things that helped me were:
1. Planning extra time into my schedule to adjust to the new software and minimize impact to our own clients.
2. Asking for help when needed. I was fortunate to have Danielle and Tom to turn to, and relied on them. Having Danielle as my capable “point person” to train my team was a huge benefit. I will remember to choose my “point person” carefully for all future changes; it can make the difference between implementation success and failure.
3. Keeping a positive attitude. Knowing that my team and I would eventually figure out the new SharePoint helped me through the change.
I’m happy to say we successfully moved our files and team over to the new SharePoint. Weeks later, it seems like we’ve always used this service provider…and we like the new site even better than the old. Time to embrace the next change!
When you eat at a restaurant, the food arrives in a specific order. First, there’s the bread (for those who still eat carbs!). Next, you may get a first course, a salad or soup.
Then the waiter brings the main course, the heart of the meal. This takes longer to eat than the bread or first course, but is usually the most satisfying part of the meal. It’s also the most vital part – if you don’t eat the main course, you could be hungry when you leave the restaurant.
Finally, you can order dessert and coffee. Of course, dessert isn’t necessary – it’s “nice to have.”
But what if all of your courses were served at the same time? You wouldn’t know which food to start eating, or where to focus your attention. You’d have dessert at the start of the meal, whether or not you wanted it. And, you’d probably feel overwhelmed and irritated, and might lose interest in the main course.
The same principle holds true for elearning. If you are given too much material simultaneously, your mind will be overloaded, just like your stomach would be with too much food at once.
Here are some pointers to reducing cognitive overload in your elearning:
- Create a course that reads logically. People read top to bottom, left to right. So avoid having information begin on the right-hand side. This prevents your learners from having to work too hard and get frustrated.
- Use white space liberally. Placing paragraphs and graphics too close together creates a disorganized appearance and will only confuse the learner. Instead, break up one screen into two or more screens.
- Add color wisely. In an elearningindustry.com post, Christopher Pappas advises using just two or three colors per course or module; otherwise, the course may appear disorganized. When adding color, don’t forget that some learners may be color blind, and find another way to provide visual contrast. You can even find online applications that analyze color contrast.
- Be smart about animation. There are a lot of great tech tricks out there, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Any formatting tool should support the learning objectives and/or learning styles; when in doubt, take it out!
- Focus on the need-to-know; trim the nice-to-know material. Research backs this up: Studies have shown that extra details can actually detract from learning. If you must incorporate the optional information, put it in a clickable “tips” box on the applicable screen or in a course resource list.
- Use audio rather than text to explain graphics. This allows the learner to focus visually on the graphic while taking in the description aurally, which maximizes learning. Of course, text should always be an option for sight impaired learners.
Implement these tips, and they will help your learners to be satisfied by – and not overwhelmed by – your elearning solution. And, they might even look forward to returning for another “meal” sometime!