How to design great e-Learning: ask the right questions

It has to be said that i’m a rather amateur gardener, much preferring the ‘BBQ on a summer evening‘ end of the event to the ‘months of digging holes and spreading manure‘ part of the process. On those occasions when shame or enthusiasm beckons, i tend to buy a few plants and stick them into a vacant patch of brown earth, but there is no master plan. The result is, how shall we say, rustic. I call it my ‘nature‘ garden, but my friends recognise it for what it is: overgrown, lacking structure or thought and full of weeds. Good for a party, but unlikely to win any prizes.

Learning Methodology

My six stage methodology for e-learning design: try asking these three questions for each stage

I spent sunday at the other end of the spectrum at Keukenhof gardens: seven million plants across twenty eight hectares (fifteen tea rooms) and the product of some superb planning. It turns out that they plant the bulbs for the famous Dutch tulips in three layers: the highest ones flower first, then, as they flag, the next ones comes through and, finally, once you chop them off, the last layer appears. This layering trick lets them keep the gardens blooming for eight weeks. It’s that planning, that thinking to keep the experience at it’s very best for the whole duration which bought me back to basics: today, learning methodology and, in particular, some questions that you can ask to keep yourself out of the weeds and keep your learning fresh!

My own learning methodology runs across six steps: context, demonstration, exploration, reflection, assessment and footsteps. When designing a piece of learning, this blueprint lets me structure the content, design the experience, effectively. I’ve written about this before, but my purpose today is simply to give three or so questions that you can ask at each stage: some of yourself as the organisation, some from the learner. Using a methodology for learning design, asking the right questions, doesn’t guarantee beautiful flowers, but it pretty much guarantees that you won’t be dragged down by the weeds. For me, the purpose of the methodology is a sense check: have i covered everything, or have i forgotten to leave space to play? Am i assessing something relevant, or simply asking questions for the sake of it?

If you can answer all of these questions, or if you think the learner will be happy with the answers that they give, then you’re probably home and dry: but if any areas feel thin, or if you think your organisational answers may differ from those of the learner, then it’s time to get out the pruning knife.

For example: ‘will it be worth the time i invest?

Most e-learning is way too long, and it’s too long because we convince ourselves that it needs to be, despite the evidence. I don’t spend forty five minutes reading the paper everyday, but i still know what’s going on in the world. I tailor my social learning experience very efficiently, skimming certain trusted sites and engaging with the parts that are relevant. So why do i need forty five minutes to learn about your new product? Chances are that i don’t, it’s just that organisations like to spend a lot of time telling us how important things are and treating us like idiots.

Or how about ‘can i tell this story in my own language?

A lot of learning is about changing how we do stuff, not about parroting what i say. For example, if you decide to write an article tonight about learning methodologies, i hope you’ll agree with some of what i say, disagree with other parts (based upon your experience and reading) and bring some new sources in too. Your story may be recognisable as related to mine, but you really need your own language if you truly are going to believe in it. My language works for me, but maybe you need your own flavour. This is true whatever the subject, but does your learning solution allow people the space to create their own vocabulary and practice it?

Learning methodology is a big subject: i don’t want to get further into it today, but i felt this was the time to put something out as a foundation. If you’re interested in this subject, let me know and i’ll expand on any of the individual sections.

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Agile, Context, Demonstration, Design, E-Learning, Effectiveness, Engagement, Footsteps, Instructional Design, Learning, Learning Design, Learning Methodology, Learning Styles, Meaning, Narrative, Social Learning, Stories, Storytelling and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to How to design great e-Learning: ask the right questions

  1. Tom Millar says:

    Hi Julian,
    I really like this methodology. I was taught, and have relied on for years, a methodology by the Army which is EDIP. (Explanation, Demonstration, Instruction, Practise) which I have used to good effect on many subjects.
    Your methodology, for me, takes the basis from EDIP to a much higher level. The questions you have enriched the model with, will I think, enable me and my non-training colleagues to build up some very sound training.
    Interesting stuff!
    Tom

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