E-Learning design is a fine balance between innovating new techniques, methods and technologies and repeating things that have been done before. Too much innovation means that the solution can be unstructured, rambling, late or expensive, whilst too much repetition means that it can be boring, flat, too similar to everything else and just plain bland.
One of the challenges of building e-learning is that developing technical approaches and frameworks is time consuming and expensive. The economy and viability of the whole proposition is based on being able to reuse things. This might mean reusing and re-skinning a model or assessment exercise, reusing code for menus, reusing illustrations of photos and so on. Reuse speeds up development, reduces testing, delivers economies and, to an extent, deskills the whole production process. But there are risks.
If a learner does more than one module, and the same framework is used, it feels ‘the same’, or, to put it another way, it loses impact and can be boring. Successful e-learning is engaging and dynamic, it’s built for a specific audience and uses interactivity to add value according to a rigorous learning methodology, not just for the sake of it. Good e-learning is imaginative and effective, poor e-learning is repetitive and flat.
There is no clear answer to balancing the demands of innovation versus repetition, but one method that i find reasonably effective is to at least make the conversation explicit. If we are looking at the initiation stages of a project, we will look at where we are innovating and where we are repeating things, and if we are building multiple modules, we will try to ensure that there is a little piece of innovation in each one. The results can be cumulative. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time, but if you do a new piece every time, before you know it, you have something new and of value in it’s own right.
And innovation doesn’t just mean technology, we can innovate in terms of the narrative style we are using, the storytelling voice. Simply ranging from first person to third person narrative, using different ages of characters, different locations, different visual styles, different graphic design styles and palettes of colours, different metaphors and layout styles, all of these things create variety and engagement.
Making the conversation about innovation and replication explicit is also a good thing in terms of creating variation within the learning story. Ensuring that the narrative is varied for each user across multiple projects. When we are under pressure for budgets and timescales, it’s easy to just settle into a patter of recycling and repeating things, but ultimately we will end up disengaging the learner and producing less effective solutions.